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What the demographics of ACS committees tell us

by Carolyn Ribes, Chair, ACS Committee on Committees
November 17, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 45


Photo of Carolyn Ribes.
Credit: Courtesy of Carolyn Ribes

Did you know that more than 750 American Chemical Society members serve on committees that support the ACS Council? These members volunteer their time and energy to ensure ACS achieves its goals. They demonstrate passion for chemistry, professionalism, and servant leadership throughout their volunteer work.

Appointments to 29 council-related committees are made annually either by the ACS president or as a shared decision by the ACS president and chair of the board of directors. The Committee on Committees (ConC) works hard to ensure that committees are optimally organized and resourced. Using the committee preference form, we gather input from ACS members to understand which committees they would like to serve on as well as their motivation for service.

Then, ConC members collaborate to match members’ abilities, skills, and interests against committee needs when developing recommendations for committee appointments. Service on some committees is enabled by a specific technical or professional expertise or experience. For standing and society committees, some or all members must be councilors.

Organizations that engage members with differing perspectives, experiences, backgrounds, and thinking styles are more successful than those that are less inclusive. Having a diverse membership and volunteer pool also aligns with the ACS core value of inclusion, diversity, and respect.

It’s important that our council and our committees understand the needs, perspectives, and interests of our members.

To better understand the range of volunteers engaged at the national level, ConC completed its second demographic survey this year, collecting insights on the membership of our national committees. The high response rate (79%; n = 593) is encouraging because it indicates that understanding our demographics is also of interest to our volunteers. The data show that 78% of the respondents hold a doctoral degree, 44% are first-generation college graduates, and 5% are veterans. Almost 84% were born in the US, and 97% currently reside in the US. The remaining members live in 10 countries.

While 17% of the committee members are retired, 68% are employed full-time, with 19% working in industry and 68% working in academia. Half the national committee members are not members of the ACS Council. Eighty percent of the respondents self-identified as Caucasian, 5% as African American, 5% as Latino, 5% as Asian, 2% as Native American, and 3% as multiracial or other.

Approximately 13% of committee members are under 40 years of age, 33% are under 50 years old, and 54% are under 60. In terms of gender, 52% are male, 47% are female, and 1% are nonbinary. With respect to sexual orientation, roughly 94% are straight, 3% are gay (male), 1.5% are gay (female), 0.5% are bisexual, and 1% chose “other.” Six percent of the respondents reported a disability that needed accommodation.

The survey included questions on how the current committee members are engaged within ACS. Divisions are well represented in the committee member pool, with 87% belonging to at least one technical division, and all technical divisions were represented on at least one committee. While most committee members have served on one or two committees, one-fifth have served on four or more. Eighty-four percent of committee members have been ACS members for more than 10 years, and 24% have been ACS members for more than 40 years. Approximately half have held a leadership role at ACS (for example, task force chair, committee chair, or subcommittee chair).

Since sufficient demographic data on the 150,000 ACS members do not exist, ConC is not able to determine how well the committee members reflect the demographics of the society as a whole. However, we are able to identify some opportunities from these data. For example, chemists with doctoral degrees seem to be overrepresented on committees (at 78%), and industrial chemists are likely underrepresented (at 19%). With only 2% of committee members being students, it is likely this group is also underrepresented when compared with the ACS membership, as are committee members under 40 years old (13%).

ConC reviewed the results from each of the council-related committees during its fall committee meeting. ConC will use the aggregated data to guide its inclusion efforts. Since ACS is a membership organization, it’s important that our council and our committees understand the needs, perspectives, and interests of our members. This understanding is easier to achieve if these elected and appointed representatives reflect the composition of our society.

ConC is updating the committee preference form, which will be available in March 2020, to better facilitate understanding member interest, experience, and expertise. If you do not already participate in this process, contact for access and information on the application process. While we cannot guarantee that you will receive an appointment, we thoughtfully consider all applications.

ConC welcomes your suggestions and thoughts on how we can better improve committee demographics to represent our society. All ACS members are eligible to volunteer to serve on ACS committees. We hope that all members can see themselves reflected within the committee membership of the organization.

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



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