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Turning aspirations for inclusion into action

by Luis Echegoyen, ACS president , John E. Adams, ACS board chair
April 10, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 14

 

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Credit: Daniel Stanley Photography
Luis Echegoyen

The American Chemical Society core values reflect the fundamental beliefs of the society and guide the activities of our volunteer members and staff to achieve our mission and vision. In short, they are why we do what we do. The conundrum, though, lies in the development and implementation of what we do in order to turn these tenets into practical and effective actions to support, promote, and enhance both ACS and the greater chemistry enterprise.

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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
John E. Adams

If ACS governance could devise a straightforward program to ensure that ACS at all levels would achieve its laudable aspirations, the result would be fantastic. But doing so is difficult, if not impossible. We are all in this together, and all our efforts must be marshaled if we are to make progress, particularly if we are to make fundamental cultural changes.

We want to focus here on our core value of diversity, inclusion, and respect. We hope that you are aware of some of ACS’s ongoing efforts, and we also seek your advice. For over 50 years, ACS Project SEED has given economically disadvantaged high school students a chance to work in a real research lab to learn about career opportunities in chemistry that are open to them and to receive real mentoring—not just academic advising. And for the past 25 years, the ACS Scholars Program has awarded scholarships to hundreds of underrepresented minority undergraduate students pursuing degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering.

In addition, a lot of work has gone into ensuring that the selection of ACS award winners and honorees is not influenced by gender, racial, or other biases and encourages the nomination of all worthy individuals for these recognitions. And various governance committees and groups have become vocal advocates for the individuals they serve, through programmatic activities and the creation of networking opportunities.

We are struck, though, by something that too often seems missing, or at least not explicitly stated, in efforts to transform diversity, inclusion, and respect aspirations into positive action. Infusing life into this core value should involve steps beyond attracting and admitting ACS members. We need to focus on what we can do to welcome individuals who may feel that they are and always will be outsiders, and we need to encourage them to participate fully in the chemistry enterprise. Only then can we fully address the inclusion component of our core value.

Obviously, making our members feel welcome involves far more than providing a nice reception at one of our national meetings; it is something that needs to filter down throughout the entire organization—governance, local sections, divisions, student chapters, and staff. Are there opportunities for members who identify with underrepresented groups to move into leadership roles? Are their suggestions and comments being taken seriously? We are not implying that the existing contributions of our stakeholders should be minimized, but inclusion must be construed in the broadest sense. For example, many of our dedicated volunteers have useful experience and can be excellent mentors for those just beginning their careers, either in ACS or in their day jobs. Are we as welcoming throughout the organization to bachelor’s degree–holding chemical scientists as we are to those who have earned a PhD?

All of us need to do what we reasonably can to welcome folks of all stripes.

We sometimes hear comments suggesting that ACS is only for PhD chemists, but we don’t do ourselves, or the broader chemistry enterprise, any good if we focus exclusively on those having graduate degrees. All of us need to do what we reasonably can to welcome folks of all stripes.

Many social science studies have demonstrated that better decision-making and innovation arise when teams are populated with individuals having diverse experiences and points of view. In the case of industry, diversity has been shown to increase productivity and company profits. So, increasing diversity within ACS is not just a matter of social justice, nor do we pursue it just to generate a warm feeling inside.

Welcoming individuals from the various communities of chemical scientists and respecting their various life experiences and situations pay dividends for everyone, including ACS. Doing so enriches our experiences and, we hope, theirs as well. Inviting them in the door is by no means sufficient; it is important to welcome them as part of the whole, engage them, and encourage (and allow) them to participate fully. We will all be better for it if we collectively engage and help to welcome diversity, inclusion, and respect.

To anyone who is interested in the chemical sciences, broadly defined, we are here for you. We need your insight, your passion for the field, your innovative suggestions, and your help. We welcome your ideas and feedback at j.adams@acs.org and l.echegoyen@acs.org.

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

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