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71: Water Nerd’s Guide to Diversity, Inclusion, and Creating a Talent Pipeline

Melinda White often referred to as Mimi, serves as a Human Resources Consultant for Montgomery County, Environmental Services located in Dayton, Ohio. In her current role, she holds the responsibility for various training, organizational development, community collaboration, and human resources functions. 

As an active community member in Dayton, She is a member of the advisory board for Engineering Technology at Sinclair Community College, serves as an executive board member of the National Conference for Community & Justice of Greater Dayton (NCCJ). She has served as an active member and contributor of the Ohio Diversity Council and National Diversity Council since 2008. She is skilled and passionate about bringing people of different backgrounds together to create and achieve shared goals. 

She has a bachelor’s degree in Management/Project Management from Antioch University McGregor, a Master’s degree in Management and Leading Change (HR) (MLCHR) from Antioch University Midwest, and a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP).

Top Takeaways

  1. Build your talent pipeline from the ground up by working with the people actually doing that type of work.
  2. Human beings are hardwired to have biases. Bring them to the surface and be willing to change.
  3. Leading with empathy will allow you to build the workforce of tomorrow with the positive diversity and inclusion you seek. 

Shownotes:

[4:43] So Mimi, did you choose water or did water choose you?

  • Water chose me. I started liking it, which is kind of weird.

[5:44] When you presented at UMC we heard a lot about workforce. You came from outside of water so where did you start in developing your talent pipeline?

  • I had to let them know I wasn’t here for your job. I put on a pair of boots and picked up a sledgehammer. I went on a series of ride alongs with the team.

[7:15]I know each one of my employee’s names. I stand outside my door and wave and tell them how much I appreciate them. They could choose to be anywhere, but they chose here. We are a family. 

[9:10]Our boots are dirty and we can step on your carpet – but that’s why we have vacuums.

[9:35]You are working with students to come and join the water sector. Can you tell us a little more?

  • The Water Utility Technician Program helps let students know the value of these type of jobs– its hard to find operators because we forgot about the trades. The water sector is a lucrative industry with good paying jobs.
  • A student can take the class, take the test and get a job.
  • Ask field staff what they would need to succeed in this industry.

[12:21]If you build it they will come – not true unless they know you built it! Mimi went out and marketed these programs to students. She brought field staff and vehicles to gain interest and brought the students on tours.

  • No one talks more passionately about a job than the person in that job. Have our field staff communicate with potential students about the value of this career.

[15:30]High school students next step is to gain independence. How do we leverage this to make an impact on high school students? 

  • Invite them to place where they can work and talk with people already working in the industry.

[18:18]Getting people in the door is an important part but so is nurturing them. How are you handling professional development? 

  • Our employees were missing key interviewing skills which fostered the need for nurturing and professional development for the field staff.
  • I am willing to give my time on the weekends if they are willing to as well.
  • Mimi taught the employees to have more confidence to interview better. This engagement demonstrated care for the employee and that they are valued.
  • The employees learned how to talk about the job and what they knew rather than relying on someone knowing them.
  • Key skills: Outlook and Excel classes.
  • “Boot Up Program” – Managers go out with our employees into the field.
  • Speed mentoring like speed dating to meet others in the organization and get exposure to other roles.
  • Host a book club (e.g., StrengthsFinders, True North, Crucial Conversations)

[22:28]Mimi is a Master Trainer in Crucial Conversations. 

  • Mandatory reading and training for everyone in the organization.
  • Helps employees to have conflict resolution skills.
  • Teams have a common language with each other “In my opinion….” It’s about having good outcomes.

[25:24]Frustration of being an internal applicant. Invest in your internal employees to retain them. It’s not about money, it’s about time. When it comes to this investment.

[26:31]Tell us about some of the positive outcomes of your program?

  • The opportunity to intern with the water utility gives them a better chance at a long-term role.
  • They have invested in themselves and the utility has invested in them.
  • Employees are using their skills (e.g., Is that a story or is that a fact?)

[29:36]What are some ideas for getting to know 300+ people in your organization? 

  • It’s easy to just say “hello” to someone and learn their names.
  • The power of having toys in your office.
  • Remember the little things—it shows how much you care.

[33:24]Why is diversity and inclusion so important for workforce issues?

  • Diversity is not just about race and gender.
  • It’s about understanding people to understand their biases.
  • Diversity is not a comfortable subject but diversity is just about differences.

[36:45]How do you level the playing field by setting the tone for diversity and inclusion? 

  • We are here to understand and not to punish people for their opinions.
  • Icebreaker: Stand up for Diversity. 
  • Think about a time someone told you “you weren’t good enough.”

[41:29]What is the salad bowl theory? 

  • In a salad you can see all the different parts – the bowl is the workplace and the people are the salad parts.
  • The salad dressing is the mission, vision and values of the organization – it touches everything.

[44:02]Human beings are hardwired to be biased. That’s okay as long as you know why you have that bias and what you do with it. 

  • Are you open minded enough to change your stereotypes?

[47:15]What can we learn from Disney about diversity especially Belle and Happy Feet?

  • There is good in everyone.
  • If everyone has the same talent then the organization can’t move forward.

[52:03]It’s not about accepting, it’s about respecting.

  • Our people are the main characters in water’s story. They could choose to be somewhere else but they are here with us.
  • Need to adopt a mentality of servant leadership.
  • Stop and say “Thank You” to your employees for the work they do.

[56:50]The Lightning Round

  • Be More Strategic in Business – Diana Thomas. 
  • Why am I doing this and who is going to be affected?
  • Inclusivity: Take the time to understand. Take the time to smile.

Resources:

StrengthsFinders – Tom Rath

Discover Your True North – Bill George

Crucial Conversations – Kerry Patterson

Be More Strategic in Business – Diana Thomas 

Sponsor:

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