Two recent incidents prompted me to contemplate women’s issues. First, a brilliant 10-year-old girl contacted my son to criticize his online newspaper. To her, there were too many science articles. In the second incident, while I was standing in a checkout line of six women, a man approached asking where the end of the line was located. After learning it was behind the sixth customer, he rudely demanded a second cashier. When an additional lane opened, he scooted into it, in front of all the women. What gave the 10-year-old girl a voice but not the women standing in the grocery store line? How can all women develop a confident and forceful voice to advocate for equal social and professional positions in this world? As individuals, how can we help achieve equity and equality in what we say and do?
As the newly appointed chair of the American Chemical Society Women Chemists Committee (WCC), I want to focus on empowering women. The committee’s mission is to attract, retain, develop, promote, and advocate for women to positively impact diversity, equity, and inclusion in the American Chemical Society as well as in the profession.
WCC offers many avenues to develop career opportunities and draw attention to the work done by women chemists. Through webinars and technical programming, WCC encourages individuals to share their stories—such as how to promote oneself at work—and it organizes symposia at national meetings where women chemists can present their research. WCC presents awards to undergraduates, graduate students, and midcareer scientists to empower them to continue in their chosen career paths. Participating in or developing local section WCCs offers women chemists an opportunity to network and advocate for themselves. Being part of WCC means that you are representing women in chemistry and that you are someone who strives to achieve equity and recognition for all. Yet, with all these opportunities, inequity is still present in our society, and the mission of WCC is not complete.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, I challenge you to do more to help create a true transformation for women. Achieving change requires initiating and implementing forward-thinking policies and programs that may upset the status quo but are needed for progress. Our world needs individuals who are passionate about chemistry, open minded to new ways of doing things, willing to take responsibility, respectful of other opinions, and eager to learn. Women have a unique and powerful perspective to bring to our society and to our profession. By harnessing the strength of women from underrepresented groups, we can unify into a powerful voice.
Here are some suggestions on how we can implement change together.
▸ Women must continue to tell their stories. We must share our experiences so that we can offer suggestions on how to improve women’s lives, and we should counsel others to join the momentum toward change. WCC can offer a forum for these stories. With its policy of inclusion, the committee welcomes people of every color, creed, and profession.
▸ Women can and must recognize their economic power. According to the 2020 ACS Women in the Workplace study, more than 2 million women have considered leaving their professions because of burnout, performance expectations, and time management issues. This attrition could have a dramatic impact on the economy. Rather than letting women fade from the field, let us unite our voices to endorse inclusivity, respect, and equality.
▸ We can empower all women to fully participate in the redistribution of social and economic dominance using knowledge, skills, and confidence gained through education. As chemists, we can package scientific information in ways that are accessible to everybody. We can create an environment that provides the skills necessary to empower women.
During the pandemic, some women have struggled to juggle home and work given day-care and school closures and other challenges, and they have begun to question their role in the workplace. Let us emerge from quarantine seizing every opportunity to help women find their voice. Let us create an image of what the world should be and craft a plan to attain diversity, equity, and inclusion in the postpandemic world. Empowered women can effect change that leads to growth.
I challenge you to join WCC as we amplify women’s voices. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to start the conversation.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.