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ACS Meeting News

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect was an important theme of the ACS Fall 2021 meeting

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
August 30, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 31


The American Chemical Society just hosted its first hybrid meeting, Aug. 22–26. A session I found particularly insightful was the ACS Board of Directors open meeting. This session was introduced by the chair of the ACS Board of Directors, Paul Jagodzinski. In his opening remarks, he referred to an ACS Comment that he wrote for C&EN at the end of June. In “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect: It Must Be Different This Time,” he writes, “The American Chemical Society strives to be a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive professional society.” However, he adds, “at present, everyone does not feel included and respected in ACS.”

At the meeting, he applauded the recent decision by the ACS Board of Directors to add a fifth goal to ACS’s strategic plan to reflect the Society’s ambition to promote and embrace diversity and inclusion in chemistry. He also noted that when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect (DEIR), it is actions we need. “We don’t need another report or task force,” he said.

He then introduced Raj Mukhopadhyay, vice president of the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect at ACS. Mukhopadhyay moderated a panel titled “Attracting and Retaining Volunteers at the Grassroots: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect.”

The panel was made up of three volunteers from the ACS Georgia Local Section: Pamela Leggett-Robinson, founder and executive director of PLR Consulting; Tyler Kinner, a research scientist with the Georgia Tech Research Institute; and Ajay Mallia, a professor of chemistry at Georgia Gwinnett College in the School of Science and Technology.

Mukhopadhyay began the discussion by asking what we risk losing by not having a diverse and inclusive culture in the chemical sciences. Leggett-Robinson argued that chemistry as a profession is at stake and that we risk losing many people who want to be engaged but do not have access. Mallia added that we risk a loss of creativity and innovation. By not welcoming people of different backgrounds into the chemical sciences, we leave ideas on the table. “Inclusivity helps solve problems,” he added.

The conversation shifted to removing barriers to access for people from historically marginalized groups. Leggett-Robinson noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has created “a space for engagement” for new participants in chemistry conversations. For example, her local section meetings had always been in person on Tuesdays at 7:00–9:00 p.m., at a location across town from where she lived. “It took me 2 h to get there,” she said. But the transition to virtual meetings during the pandemic made it easier for her to participate. Removal of some COVID-19 restrictions is now prompting questions such as: Do we have to have meetings on Tuesday evenings only? Can we rotate meeting locations? Leggett-Robinson and her fellow volunteers now see an opportunity to reinvent how they work, to eliminate barriers, and to open the door for others to participate.

Mukhopadhyay also asked the panelists about failed DEIR efforts: when things, despite good intentions, went wrong. Kinner advised that “one should not let perfect be the enemy of good.” He acknowledged that DEIR is a sensitive area and that one should be comfortable with the idea that “you are not going to be perfect.”

The final minutes were spent discussing how to create a welcoming environment for all in which people feel they belong. Leggett-Robinson offered that to have real inclusion, you need to have people around you who practice it every day. The answer is not to invite everyone to the table but to ensure that diverse voices are represented and that they truly have a voice and a vote..

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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