MADELEINE JACOBS, C&EN WASHINGTON
For more than two decades, companies, universities and other academic organizations, and government agencies have been creating programs to attract talented women and minorities to their workplaces. In this, they've been motivated by federal antidiscrimination laws as well as the simple facts of demographics. "Women and minorities--African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans--are a growing part of the workforce," according to Eli M. Pearce, American Chemical Society president and professor of chemistry at Brooklyn Polytechnic University. "If we fail to attract more people from these groups, chemistry could face severe personnel shortages like those we've already seen in many computer-related occupations."
Pearce was the lead-off speaker at a symposium in April at the ACS national meeting in Orlando, Fla., titled "Diversity in the 21st Century: Advancing Women in Science." The symposium featured well-known names and organizations on the diversity front, among them, as moderator, Helen M. Free. Free is a pioneering woman chemist and longtime Bayer scientist as well as a past-president of ACS. Most recently, she is chair of an ACS task force aimed at ensuring the progress of women. The symposium in Orlando, she explained, was "intended to be a broad-based look at the factors needed to ensure the continuing success of women and minorities in the sciences, all of whom represent the future of the ACS and the chemical profession."
Appropriately, the first speaker was from Dow Chemical, which has had an outstanding reputation in the industry for true dedication to diversity programs, going back well over a decade. Pearce noted that William S. Stavropoulos, chairman of Dow and Dow chief executive officer and president from 1995 until 2000, "thinks a lot about the future, the way every good business executive must. He recognizes that most of the emerging markets are in Asia, Latin America, and Central and Eastern Europe. And he recognizes that to succeed in these markets his company must--and here I quote--'accept and embrace diversity.' " The company's literature, Pearce noted, states, "Our goal is not simply to track numbers, although that may be necessary, but to truly embrace diversity for the competitive asset it is."
"At Dow, we have the unalienable right to use our talents to pursue success," according to Dow's Kathleen M. Bader, who spoke at the symposium. Bader is business group president of styrenics and engineered products, a $4 billion business with 4,600 employees. She is also corporate vice president of quality and business excellence.
"We believe that the widest variety of ideas flow from the most diverse group," said Bader, who began her career with Dow in 1973 and has held a number of positions throughout the U.S. and Europe.
DOW HAS HAD diversity networks for women and minorities since the 1980s. But in 1990, executives at Dow Chemical noticed that women were leaving the company's Michigan division at twice the rate that men were. The company formed two committees--one dealing with women's issues, another dealing with minority issues, to identify the areas that the company needed to address. The committees individually collected data, held focus groups, and then got together and discovered that the issues that concerned them were similar.
Both groups saw a big problem with the way many supervisors, all of whom were white men at the time, treated people. As a result of the data collection, Dow accelerated a policy that was being prepared for supervisor accountability.
Dow also discovered that some women were leaving the company because the firm was too rigid about work schedules. Dow now has flextime and a less than full-time workweek that can be used by employees with child-care responsibilities. "Family care shouldn't be just a woman's issue," Bader said. Unfortunately, despite many workforce accommodations, "many women still do leave Dow."
"Dow believes that diversity will help us beat the competition," she said. "So we insist on it; we have a strategy. A lot of companies talk about diversity and say people are their most important asset, but at Dow we have a real goal called 'parity plus.' The plan at Dow is to recruit a higher percentage of women scientists than the percentage of women available. For example, last year, Dow hired women for 29% of the positions in R&D from an available pool of 30%." However, she noted, only 5% of Dow's scientists are women.
Bader admitted that "exclusion--social isolation--rather than discrimination is the major problem for women and minorities today." Dow has five networks that try to deal with this problem: African American, Asian, Hispanic-Latino, women, and gay-lesbian. Do such networks encourage fragmentation? Bader believes they don't. "More than half the people in the gay-lesbian network, for example, are not gays or lesbians," she said.
Dow has metrics for success in hiring, pay equity, and promotion. In summary, she said, "inclusion is a bottom-line issue, driven strategically from the top. But it doesn't just happen. It must be taught, tracked, evaluated, and analyzed."
Ensuring success takes on double meaning in a corporate environment, where diversity means gender, racial, and cultural diversity, not to mention disciplinary diversity, according to Stephen A. Di Biase, vice president of emulsified products with Lubrizol. Di Biase's career at Lubrizol has spanned bench chemistry, management of technology, strategic planning and research, and research and development. He spoke about "Diversity: A New Source of Competitive Advantage."
The chemical industry today exemplifies "survival of the fittest," he said. "Diverse teams view problems more panoramically. The goal is to achieve synergy to create a competitive advantage." Lubrizol has a manager of diversity who integrates diversity into business initiatives. The company has various networking groups, a new-hire buddy system, mentoring, and succession-planning programs.
Like Dow, Lubrizol's commitment to diversity comes from the top. "A company needs to be convinced that diversity is good for business," Di Biase said. "If the company doesn't believe it, it's a bigger hill to climb. Diversity is all about business--and it is the right thing to do."
COMPANIES KNOW they cannot be successful without utilizing the talents of as many people as possible, from all walks of life. That was the message of Fran Keeth, CEO of Shell Chemicals and the first female CEO of a major chemical company. Keeth spoke on "Diversity and Inclusiveness in a Global Work Environment."
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"The petrochemical industry today is not attractive to young graduates," she admitted, "so we must tap the entire talent pool. We have to emphasize inclusiveness. This is definitely about creating a corporate advantage, increasing our creativity in innovative problem solving." And diversity is good business because "Shell is a global company and our customers, shareholders, and suppliers are diverse."
Shell has a three-pronged process for diversity that involves standards, structure, and measurement. Shell's global diversity and inclusiveness standard is reported annually, just like health, safety, and environmental standards. A diversity and inclusiveness council sets policy, standards, and action plans. Each major business has a diversity council.
On the measurement side, Keeth said, "our goal is to have 20% of women in management positions by 2008. This is going to be a stretch," she admitted, because Shell is starting from a very low base.
"I have a passion around this topic," Keeth said, "because I have a great passion for the work that my company does. We have changed the world, made it a better place to live. If we don't get our act together in [diversity], our industry won't survive."
Other speakers addressed the challenge of ensuring that there will be enough talented people for industry and other employment sectors to recruit from. One of the key questions, "Who will do science in the 21st century?" was addressed at the symposium by Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of North Carolina State University since 1998 and an eminent research chemist.
Like other speakers, Fox emphasized the strategic reasons that it is important to have women and minorities in science and technology. Increasingly, she pointed out, R&D operations in companies are moving overseas. This means that more and more foreign-born scientists, even those educated in the U.S., will have employment opportunities in their own countries.
THE PROBLEMS in recruiting women and minorities to the sciences and technology begins at the very earliest levels of education. Girls lose interest in science somewhere between the sixth and eighth grades, Fox noted. By the time kids enter college, studies show, 31% of males have decided to pursue the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering, but only 13% of entering females have made that decision. Not surprisingly, women earn a much smaller percentage of the total number of science and engineering degrees.
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Fox pointed out that, even though women earn a larger percentage of Ph.D.s in chemistry than they did 30 years ago, academia is still not doing a very good job of recruiting them. She reviewed some of the data, including those published in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN, Oct. 1, 2001, page 98; and Nov. 19, 2001, page 71). In particular, C&EN's survey of women tenure-track faculty at the top 50 chemistry departments revealed that women accounted for only 11% of the faculty. Also, a study of the success rate of women chemists in the top 25 graduate schools ranked by the National Research Council was conducted by Valerie Kuck, a chemist who recently retired from Lucent Technologies, and revealed wide disparity in the graduation rates.
Fox believes that universities need to have a better set of recruiting and retention programs for women that would make departments more accountable for the outcome of searches and promotions. "In academia," she noted, "you need more women at the top to ask questions about parity"--that is, whether they are present in proportion to available numbers. Will there come a day when women will have parity on university faculties? "Until more women are department chairs, deans, provosts, and presidents of universities, it won't happen," Fox said.
THE ISSUES for minorities are somewhat different than they are for women, Fox noted. Many fewer African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans go into the sciences than women, so the pool of applicants for academic jobs is extremely small. A recent study pointed out that many minorities are concerned about their ability to finance their higher education. There are also weaknesses in undergraduate advising, a lack of knowledge of rewards of doctoral education, and concerns about future job opportunities.
Fox also agreed with Dow's Bader that a big factor in guaranteeing success for women and minorities once they have jobs in academia is "inclusion." In 1999, a study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed decades of gender discrimination. "Exclusion and invisibility proved to be the common experience of most tenured women faculty" in the School of Science, the report said. Fox commented that these kinds of problems must be overcome in order to make real progress.
One person who has been trying to make changes all her life is Shirley Ann Jackson, who in July 1999 became Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's 18th president, and who spoke at the symposium on "Seizing the Affirmative Opportunity."
Jackson undoubtedly had firsthand experience with some of the issues raised in the MIT report. She studied for her B.S. at MIT in 1968 and was the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT in 1973; hers was in theoretical elementary particle physics. She worked at Bell Labs and Rutgers University and served as head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the Clinton Administration.
"Industry, government, and the academic world all have an urgent need for the best talent," Jackson said. "A lack of educated, prepared science and technology talent restricts innovation and will affect our ability to remain competitive in the world." Affirmative action is no longer the issue, she said. "This is not a social problem or a moral imperative, but an economic imperative."
Jackson outlined a number of actions that could be taken to increase diversity in science and engineering disciplines. She believes universities should be encouraged to adopt high schools and middle schools to get students interested in science. At the university level, potential talent should be identified early, and counseling should be provided to guide students to graduate school.
The current crisis in supplying talented science and engineering graduates is also "an opportunity," she said. "We need to identify the best practices of organizations and use lessons learned to recommend policy change. I see this as an affirmative opportunity."