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Chemical industry launches diversity and inclusion scholarship initiative

January 17, 2021
Diversity & Inclusion

An industry-backed collaboration has launched a program to provide scholarships, internships, mentorship, and leadership development for students pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The Future of STEM Scholars Initiative (FOSSI)—whose founding partners include the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), Chemours, and HBCU Week Foundation—has a first-year goal of supporting 150 students majoring in STEM at HBCUs.

FOSSI is planned as the first of several efforts to address the needs of underrepresented groups, the backers say. The idea started at ACC’s annual meeting last June, soon after the George Floyd murder, as industry leaders talked about the need to ensure the future of our workforce is not only robust, but also equitable, diverse, and inclusive, said Chemours chairman and CEO Mark Vergnano, who served last year as ACC board chair. “We talked about it as a team: how do we address this whole issue around social justice and racial inequality as an ACC board and also as an industry.”

HBCU Week Foundation will serve as scholarship administrator for the initiative. As of early December, supporters have raised $4.6 million toward an initial 2021 funding goal of $7.2 million, which would support 150 FOSSI scholars. The effort has multiyear pledges of more than $10 million, including $5 million from Chemours and $1.9 million from Dow.
More than 800,000 new STEM jobs are expected to be created in the US alone, which indicates a need for more students to study STEM than ever before, Vergnano said. “It’s the right time to launch an industry-wide effort that could meet the growing demand for STEM talent by tapping into highly talented groups of students that our industry wants to hire,” Vergnano added.

ACC is also launching a workforce development and mentoring program in partnership with AIChE in 2021 to support growth, promotion, and advancement of underrepresented groups into leadership positions within industry, said ACC president and CEO Chris Jahn. “ACC and member companies are committed to enhancing diversity in our facilities, our boardrooms, and the communities in which we operate,” Jahn said. The development and mentorship program will focus on early-career candidates with less than five years of experience, as well senior leadership with a minimum of 10 years of experience to develop C-level candidates.

ACC launched sustainability metrics in 2019, which included diversity and inclusion as one of the six initial metrics. “These efforts are an extension of that work already being undertaken,” Jahn said. “This is an opportunity to bring all of that together and move ahead.”

June Wispelwey, executive director and CEO of AIChE, said AIChE is committed to an equity, diversity, and inclusion goal of 100% parity within the profession. “We envision that FOSSI will pave the way for hundreds of students to attend HBCUs—and become the future superstars of the chemical industry.”

Scholarships will be supplemented with internships, mentoring, and career development to build a robust pipeline into industry, Vergnano added. “It’s not just a scholarship program for support through college,” Vergnano said. “It’s about getting candidates into the industry. We can improve diversity within the chemical industry and at the same time bring people in who normally wouldn’t come in.”

“We have to make the STEM pie bigger and it has to be more diverse as well,” Jahn said. “This is something that has been a challenge and a problem for a long time. We’re all doing our part at individual member companies, the ACC, and the business community more broadly. We’re all going to have to take individual actions.”

Diversity metrics will be tracked as part of ACC’s sustainability efforts, Vergnano said. “Are you able to turn scholars into hires? Are they staying with companies and are we progressing them through the organizations? Are they getting to the C-suite? We have to make sure this is all happening at the same time. We can’t have our workforce look at the leadership at their companies and not see themselves in these positions some day and think maybe this is not a place for me. We all know the more diverse and inclusive your organization, the more successful the organization is. The data is there and there’s zero dispute.”

by Robert Westervelt


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