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Diversifying ACS’s membership demographics

by Ingrid Montes, ACS Director-at-large
July 17, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 29

Ingrid Montes
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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

As the landscape of our membership changes, the American Chemical Society continues to go to great efforts to better understand these shifting demographics and comprehend the future of the society.

Our current membership totals nearly 157,000 people worldwide. Here are some additional details on our members: 60% are male, 23% are female, and 17% do not report anything on this question. In addition, 26% are students, 18% are located internationally, and 4% are retired. Approximately 50% of our members are age 52 or older.

That last piece of data suggests that ACS, like most professional associations, is facing a real challenge with the aging of its core baby-boomer demographic and adapting to the evolving needs and behaviors of the incoming millennial generation.

Our research has shown that 66 to 75% of our regular members start out as student members. The student demographic, then, offers a specific and actionable place to concentrate our efforts to engage with the greater, global chemical enterprise.

Another important challenge is how to effectively embrace diversity and inclusion. Recently, the ACS Board of Directors approved the ACS Statement on Diversity and Inclusion revised by the Committee on Minority Affairs. In addition, a diversity study was conducted and will be published soon to better understand needs, attitudes, and ACS membership drivers for racially and ethnically diverse students as well as recent graduates in chemistry and related fields.

The student demographic offers a specific and actionable place to concentrate our efforts.

The research will also be used to develop and refine member benefits and cater to the needs of underrepresented groups to create messaging that will increase engagement and broaden perspectives with the ACS member base.

Through such research initiatives, we have begun to paint a more comprehensive picture of the needs of modern chemists. As many of you know, in 2015 we launched the ACS Insight Lab to better understand our members in real time. On the basis of the success of the Insight Lab, we created a new modular survey methodology in its image. This new survey methodology supports ongoing, targeted conversations with members, garnering even greater insights into their satisfaction and perceptions. Through this approach, we can deliver more value to our members with relevant programs and meaningful content, and just as importantly, we can do it quickly.

We continue to see increased engagement from postdocs, millennials, and certain subgroups within the industrial segment, and we are refocusing many of our digital channels and mobile platforms to speak to those audiences where they are most active. We are in the process of modernizing and streamlining our marketing and communications practices through improvements in data tracking, collection, and evaluation. This will permit the society to improve web-based applications and technology to the level that our members have come to expect. And we are starting to see the payoff, as we have increased the number of graduate student members, as just one example.

As our membership base has become increasingly international, we uncovered the need for extended hours and translation services. We are exploring options for improved self-service from the ACS website via the website transformation plans that are under way.

Beginning in August, anytime a member or constituent calls Member Services and would prefer to speak in their native language, ACS Member Services representatives will be able to use an over-the-phone translation service that will support the customer and the agent with the contact and resolution.

ACS has also started to broaden its global presence, with dedicated staff located in India and China. We have plans to add staff in other regions of strategic interest to ACS. This will help us more quickly and effectively support members in-country, as well as provide us with better insights into the local needs and opportunities.

ACS maintains its robust recognition programs that extend across disciplines, career levels, industries, and society volunteer involvement. In celebrating our members and giving them a platform to be recognized by the larger scientific community in which we work, we help advance their careers and promote the essential contributions of chemists and the field of chemistry to the broader scientific community and the public.

Certainly, there are many challenges to overcome, including better serving our industry members, which is an area of particular interest this year to the Committee on Professional & Member Relations. What it means to be a chemist and where a chemist works are dramatically changing. We need to recognize that an increasing number of people who are doing chemistry do not necessarily identify with being called a chemist and that more and more, of course, chemistry is being done outside North America.

Our number one priority is to deliver the best professional value to all our members, in the most personalized way possible. We also believe we are making great strides in how we are listening to, and engaging with, the chemists of today as well as of the future. I welcome your thoughts at i.montes@acs.org.

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

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