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It starts at the top

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
April 4, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 14

There were some worrying data shared at a diversity symposium during the ACS national meeting in San Diego. During a presentation, Valerie J. Kuck, a consultant and former member of ACS’s Board of Directors, argued that the prospects for women in U.S. chemistry departments are grim. She based her conclusions on data published by C&EN as well as data she collected herself from nine elite research universities.

According to Kuck, the rate at which these nine institutions are hiring female faculty is growing by less than 1% per year. Although the average number of female full professors in these chemistry departments increased from 1.7 in 2001 to 4.2 in 2015, the growth in the average number of women in each department at the associate and assistant level was lower: from 0.6 to 1 for associate and 0.8 to 1.8 for assistant in the same period. The consequence of this is that as the older women retire, there will not be sufficient numbers of women filling up the pipeline and the percentage of female faculty members will never reach the “magical 35%” in which some claim women could have a real impact on an institution and its culture and policies.

We all understand that people tend to favor and promote those who are similar to them. Many leaders and organizations unknowingly perpetuate a similarity bias and limit the pool of potential candidates to those who share the institution’s behaviors and traits. At the same time, we all understand that a diverse workforce is a good thing especially when it comes to an organization’s ability to innovate. The problem is that, as Kuck suggests, we are neither “buying in” to nor actively “facilitating” diversity to have a real impact. What do I mean by this? When talking about diversity, there are two different types to consider: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity consists of factors such as age, race, or sexual orientation. Acquired consists of a mind-set, such as cultural awareness, that people gain from experience.

Inherent diversity is the type you can “buy in” to, and it requires changes to recruitment practices so underrepresented types of diversity are brought into the organization. It is harder to achieve because employers recognize equal opportunities but, perhaps rightly, do not change their practices to, for example, impose quotas.

Acquired diversity is the type you can “facilitate” by creating a way of working that attracts and retains individuals with different skills, views, experiences, and needs. This is about making the work environment not just diverse but also inclusive, where individuals feel respected and valued. This is not trivial: Often representatives from minority groups try to conform and mimic behaviors or characteristics of the larger group to fit in. This has the effect of canceling the positive impact of having introduced diversity within the group.

Diversity is a complex issue, and it requires the effort of many to become a reality. It starts at the top, with leaders of companies and institutions that value diversity and the greater ability to innovate that it brings to their organizations. But it must be facilitated at all levels. Filling up the pipeline is not enough. To achieve long lasting impact and change the culture, diversity and inclusivity must go hand in hand.

New online experience

We have made some changes to the C&EN website. In this most recent update, besides some important back-end changes, we made some cosmetic alterations to better align the site’s look and feel with that of the recent print redesign. We also took the opportunity to tidy up the pages to ensure you can find the information that is relevant to you at a glance. More important, our website is now more mobile friendly and thus readability of our content on those devices is very much improved. We’d like to encourage you to add C&EN to your commuting reading list (if it wasn’t there already) and spend a few minutes checking out our daily latest news.

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