I am an aquatics professional from a diverse background who has worked in the field since I was 15 years old. As I grew in the profession, I always relied on my passion for aquatics and making a difference to drive my interests and growth, versus focusing on how I might be perceived by a profession where few people looked like me or had a similar background.
The topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has been on the national forefront this past year. This not only offers a prime opportunity for aquatics professionals of color to help educate others about the importance of embracing DEI, but also to proactively incorporate ourselves into opportunities that will help change the look of the industry so that it better reflects the diverse communities that we serve.
In this column, I share advice for up-and-coming professionals of diverse backgrounds who wish to incorporate themselves in a way that is intentional and confident, while also being supportive of organizations that need diverse perspectives and guidance for engaging professionals from our communities.
Everyone’s professional path will be unique to them, but in mine I worked on building my own career, getting my voice into the industry-wide dialogue, and reaching back to mentor others.
Invest in yourself
It all starts by building ourselves into the best professionals we can be.
A great way to do that is to stand out as an aquatics professional through training and certifications.
In my capacity as a supervisor and hiring manager for aquatics facilities, when I review employment applications, I always look for candidates with industry-specific credentials … Always!
It’s no secret that our industry thrives on continuous training and certifications. The most sought-after aquatics professionals come highly trained and hold a number of basic level, instructor and/or instructor-trainer-level certifications. Not only does this training represent your knowledge of what is necessary to respond to aquatics emergencies, it also demonstrates your abilities to lead and train others within the field.
The Association of Aquatic Professionals (AOAP) offers the only professional designation to be certified by the Model Aquatic Health Code. Called the Designated Aquatic Professional (AqP), this title signifies that you are committed to training, certification and ongoing professional development.
It also helps to embrace volunteer experiences as much as paid opportunities. Early in my career, I learned that volunteer work would represent a good portion of my professional growth and development in this industry. Not every opportunity has to be a paid one to benefit your career. I have volunteered on several committees and boards with the National Recreation and Park Association’s (NRPA) Aquatics Network, the American Red Cross’ National Training Services, AOAP and, most recently, with Diversity in Aquatics.
These volunteer duties present invaluable opportunities for networking and facilitating leadership. For instance, I had no idea that serving as a conference committee member for AOAP in 2012 would lead to a position as the association’s first African American president in 2018. Leading an amazing board of directors, as well as the business of a national organization for aquatics professionals remains one the highlights of my career.
Again, this growth opportunity came from my love of the profession, a willingness to lend my talents to an organization, and to have representation for others of similar backgrounds in a leadership capacity. The industry needs our perspective and an improved understanding of how to reach other diverse professionals. Additionally, to have a voice at the table of decision-making organizations further promotes our efforts to be recognized as leaders in the field.
Lend your voice
To help boost the visibility of our communities and improve services offered to them, we need to insert our perspectives whenever we can.
A good place to start is by contributing to research and publications. This will help position you as an expert in our field.
Relay your perspective, knowledge and/or research on topics that impact your community. We cannot assume that professionals in the field understand the needs of diverse groups, so it is our responsibility to share a perspective that helps others to relate and, therefore, better serve diverse populations in need of aquatics programs, services and professional opportunities.
Aquatics International has consistently shown a commitment to incorporating diverse perspectives and information to promote inclusive programming and opportunities for the profession. Connect with this publication and others if you have a passion for writing, research and credible knowledge to share. Look for opportunities to connect with the editors, as they are always seeking content from professionals in the field.
Who would be better to tell our story than us, right?
You also can lend your voice and represent your community by attending and presenting at local, state and national conferences. This is also vital to your own career development.
There are many opportunities to present information, perspectives and research at professional conferences, both locally and nationally. Whenever possible, aquatics professionals should expand their own learning and expertise through these events. They are great for networking, and they facilitate opportunities to challenge yourself to present in front of a captive audience.
If you are shy or nervous when presenting information, it’s okay to start internally within your organization, then on to your local or state conference, and finally onto the big stage at national and international conferences.
Developing virtual content is another way to share information, but without having to worry about speaking in front of a large group. This material can be shared via websites, social media and, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re now seeing more virtual content offered by national conferences instead of hosting the traditional in-person option.
Build for the future
Don’t forget to reach back: Mentor and guide others seeking growth and opportunity.
As you develop in the profession, take opportunities to get to know other young and diverse aquatics professionals and impart knowledge and experience that will help guide them as they seek growth in the field. Challenge them to earn and maintain their certifications, earn the AqP Designation, attend meetings and conferences, and volunteer for national committees and boards. Introduce them to your professional network, share employment and growth opportunities, and lead by example by continuing to be standouts in a field that does not always look like us.
Improving minority participation in aquatics is not just an urban issue, it is a national issue. As aquatics professionals, we have the power and resources to improve the statistics ... one lap at a time!