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Embracing and advancing inclusion in chemistry

by Carolyn Ribes, ACS Director-at-Large
July 10, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 25


A photo of Carolyn Ribes.
Credit: Courtesy of Carolyn Ribes
Carolyn Ribes

As an active American Chemical Society volunteer and leader, I appreciate the sense of belonging that I have found with ACS. Engagement with the society has provided professional and personal development opportunities for me for almost 4 decades. I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from talented and caring leaders who nourished a safe and supportive environment to build leadership and interpersonal skills. I’d love for all chemists to have that opportunity and feel that ACS is their professional home. I’d like ACS to be the resource they turn to for information, education and skills training, networking, and celebrating the creative solutions chemistry provides.

But we’re not there yet: some chemists don’t feel welcome or see themselves in our organization. I work hard at being an advocate for diversity in chemistry, but I have room to grow, and so does ACS. Over the past 15 months, we’ve experienced a worldwide reconsideration of diversity and inclusion, inequity, and social injustice, and ACS is undergoing this journey as well. While there is more progress to come, I would like to share some improvements that have already been implemented.

Last year, the Board of Directors updated the ACS mission and vision to include all people; added equity to our core values; and elevated diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect (DEIR) as a priority by establishing ACS Goal 5: Embrace and Advance Inclusion in Chemistry. By doing so, the board committed to promoting DEIR; identifying and dismantling barriers to success; and creating a welcoming and supportive environment so that all ACS members, employees, and volunteers can thrive. ACS local sections, technical divisions, committees, and other units may identify ways to achieve this new goal within their span of influence, much as they do our existing goals on information solutions, members and member communities, excellence in education, and communicating chemistry’s value.

To ensure that ACS achieves and lives this commitment, Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay was named the society’s first vice president for DEIR, reporting to the CEO. In this role, she leads the new Office of DEIR and coordinates the society’s efforts to embrace and advance inclusion for ACS volunteers, staff, and members, as well as for the profession.

C&EN continues to highlight diverse scientists and their contributions. The Trailblazer series has featured LGBTQ+ chemists we should know about, celebrated the scientific contributions of distinguished Black chemists who are improving our world, and profiled women entrepreneurs. These notable editions were created through partnership with guest editors and diverse and talented journalists, artists, and scientists. Culture change requires not only emphasizing the behaviors we want to see but also discouraging toxic behaviors we want to eliminate, such as sexual harassment. I’ve deeply appreciated C&EN articles on this subject.

As a scientist, I’ve observed that diverse teams bring innovation and better solutions.

ACS has expanded its information resources for DEIR, including outstanding material on the society’s website. It has offered webinars on topics such as resilience, talent retention, microaggressions, and approaches to improve DEIR in academia and industry. Some were followed by discussions organized by the Division of Professional Relations, which allowed participants to explore and share their personal perspectives. The webinars are available on-demand as an ACS member benefit at Earlier this year, ACS launched a 2 h foundational DEIR course, Leading Inclusively: Beyond Lip Service, for staff and volunteers. National and regional meetings continue to offer DEIR-related symposia. I encourage national meeting attendees to attend DEIR symposia that have been scheduled for ACS Fall 2021 by the Divisions of Analytical Chemistry, Professional Relations, and Chemical Health and Safety, and the Committees on Minority Affairs, Women Chemists, and Younger Chemists.

ACS governance has reviewed policies and practices so it can change those that might act as barriers to participation. This spring, the ACS Council and Board of Directors approved changes in our governing documents to reduce standard term limits and to remove requirements that members of certain committees be councilors. These changes will allow for broader participation in ACS national committees. Last year, ACS publications implemented a name-change policy that enables authors who change their name for any reason to update their name on prior ACS publications. This allows authors to more easily get credit for their entire body of work throughout their careers without having to explain to employers and colleagues the reasons for changing names.

I realize we haven’t reached our destination—but even the longest journey begins with a few steps. We know that treating everyone with respect and fairness is the right and decent thing to do. As a scientist, I’ve observed that diverse teams bring innovation and better solutions. And I know that solving the challenges facing our world will require the scientific efforts of people with different lived experiences and perspectives. As we pursue these goals, I’m excited that we’re working together to be more welcoming and include more chemists within our professional home.

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



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