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Improving diversity, inclusion, and respect on ACS committees

by Carolyn Ribes, Chair, ACS Committee on Committees
November 8, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 43


Photo of Carolyn Ribes.
Credit: Courtesy of Carolyn Ribes
Carolyn Ribes

The American Chemical Society Committee on Committees (ConC) enables a dynamic and effective committee system by ensuring that our committees are optimally organized, resourced, and engaged. Our committees ensure that the ACS Board of Directors and the ACS Council can carry out their responsibilities in support of ACS’s mission and address broad topics such as outreach and advocacy, member and professional development, education, diversity, science, and operational excellence. Their work affects members, chemistry professionals, educators, and our communities.

Ideally, the demographic makeup of committees should reflect society as a whole, and hopefully ACS reflects that as well. We know that some voices and perspectives are underrepresented in ACS committees. According to an unpublished survey by ConC, approximately 750 ACS members are on Council-related committees, and only 5% self-identify as Black, 5% as Latino(a)/Hispanic, 5% as Asian, and 0.5% as Indigenous people, well below their representation in the US population. Other perspectives are also underrepresented, including industrial chemists, chemical technicians, and chemists under 40.

Recognizing that we have gaps in diversity and inclusion, ConC organized the summit “Promoting Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect and Removing Systemic Barriers within ACS Committees” in August. We reflected on the gaps, their impacts, and barriers to progress. We brainstormed actions that ConC and individual committees could take to improve diversity and inclusion. ConC is assessing the output of the summit and developing plans for action. These will be reflected as we update our strategic plan in 2021. Here are some target areas that we will address:

Transformational culture change requires focus, commitment, and hard work.

ACS needs to cast a wider net when seeking members that want to serve on a committee. Currently, the committee-preference form is sent to approximately 2,000 members, including current committee members, leaders in local sections and technical divisions, and international chapters. However, that is less than 2% of the ACS membership, and the primary targets are members that already have some leadership connection in the society. ConC is committed to expanding our reach to increase the pool of candidates for committees, especially to underrepresented groups, which will bring vital insights or skills. The relationships that ACS has with organizations such as the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science will enable this. We will work to demystify the committee-appointment process and improve the tools we use to gather information on members interested in committee service. This will enable ConC to better match the committee needs with members’ expertise and perspectives.

Traditionally, committee members were expected to attend two in-person meetings each year and participate in other meetings and conference calls. Our positive experiences with conducting all governance meetings remotely in 2020 may lead to permanent changes in how we connect. These changes could allow members with less flexibility in terms of travel to fully participate in the committee process. ConC will be working with all committees to identify and share best practices for virtual and hybrid meetings.

ConC is also actively working on addressing barriers in our governance structure. The governing documents limit some committee memberships to councilors, for example, and consequently restrict the diversity of our committees to the diversity of the council. These limitations are barriers that create inequalities in how members can serve. ConC voted in support of a petition to revise ACS bylaws and relax these requirements. The petition will be submitted to the council for action at the spring council meeting.

During the committee summit, we also discussed creating an inclusive culture on committees. Each of us can remember a time when we felt like an outsider. Reflecting on this, I know that when I felt like an outsider, I felt less confident, less motivated, sometimes frustrated, and I certainly didn’t contribute my best. We don’t want our committee members to have those feelings about committee service. Committee members deserve to feel they belong to the team and that they are respected and valued for their ideas and participation. In short, diversity without inclusion is meaningless. As scientists, we’re trained to analyze a problem, identify and test hypotheses, and develop solutions. Transformational culture change requires focus, commitment, and hard work. We have to recognize the behaviors and processes we want to change and replace them with more collaborative, inclusive, and respectful ones. To do this, we’ll need to engage our heads and our hearts. ConC is committed to this culture change, since using the talents of all our members will result in a stronger ACS that fulfills our vision. If you have feedback or suggestions, please email them to

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



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