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Bringing diversity and inclusion to the ACS table

by Rigoberto Hernandez, ACS District IV Director
March 2, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 9


Photo of Rigoberto Hernandez.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

In any organization, diversity, equity, and inclusion have to be managed strategically. They don’t happen on their own, and the organization doesn’t excel without them. In order to be inclusive to you, the reader, I must first explain what those terms mean.

Diversity is about accepting others and their differences. Equity is when each of us has an equal opportunity to succeed regardless of initial privilege. Inclusion is about removing barriers to participation. Managing diversity, equity, and inclusion means running an organization in ways that intentionally advance these goals.

To achieve a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment at the American Chemical Society, we must support all our members in a way that inspires their trust in us. We also need to comply with all laws and regulations while being faithful to our organization. The trust from our members is therefore direct (in how we engage with them) and indirect (in how we support our organization on our collective behalf). The challenge lies in maintaining that trust when the individual needs of our members and our society’s collective needs or policies are at odds with each other.

Managing a diverse and inclusive collection of members involves balancing transactional and policy actions.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough for an organization to have policies that are fair because those policies may not necessarily be equitable. For example, if we hold a meeting from 4:00 to 5:15 p.m. every Tuesday, then every member of the team has a seemingly equal opportunity to participate. And yet, for those team members with young children or aging parents to take care of, that time may be precisely when they are not available. As such, the uniform policy hurts some of the members even if it appears to be fair.

Similarly, a policy change to have everyone meet at 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m. may provide undue stress on the job performance of the majority of the team. It would be fair, but it would not be effective.

Giving team members the option of attending virtually could be a solution that achieves the intention of the policy. If not, such team members could suggest an alternative solution that would continue to engage them without requiring a change in the policy.

Such a solution would be transactional because it would involve engagement between the manager and the team member to find a personalized solution to the problem that makes access to the 4:00 p.m. meeting equitable for the entire team.

Managing a diverse and inclusive collection of members involves balancing transactional and policy actions. It is necessarily more challenging than managing a homogeneous team to which policies apply uniformly.

In April 2018, my colleagues Dontarie Stallings and Srikant Iyer and I ran a three-hour workshop on managing diversity and equity at Barnard College as part of our work on the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE) initiative.

Faculty from the Barnard and Columbia University chemistry departments learned about the difference between transactional and policy solutions as it pertains to managing diversity, equity, and inclusion. They also identified evidence-based strategies for addressing known barriers to diversity within a department and learned how to support and communicate a culture of inclusion.


The self-reported surveys before and after the workshop indicated substantial gains in knowledge of these concepts and confidence in applying them.

Approaches that address barriers to equity and inclusion and apply a balanced use of transactional and policy solutions to advance inclusion are relevant to any chemistry department. OXIDE has been disseminating these effective practices through its website, publications, and workshops.

For example, if you are a department head or leader in a research-active chemistry department—and this includes primarily undergraduate institutions—you should attend the upcoming National Diversity Equity Workshop (NDEW) organized by OXIDE on April 8–9 in Washington, DC.

NDEW 2019 will include presentations from social science researchers reporting their latest findings on barriers and solutions to achieving diversity equity, and participants will work together to apply the solutions to the professional culture of chemistry departments.

Our lists of recommendations for department heads and chairs have been shared with the community through the OXIDE website and in several publications, including C&EN. This year, OXIDE board member and ACS president-elect Luis Echegoyen will be one of our two keynote speakers.

I invite you to join me at the ACS table to manage our society’s core values on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Together, we can ensure transparency and respect in how we engage with each other.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS..


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