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The importance of celebrating diversity in STEMM

Manuela Jörg started her career with an apprenticeship as a chemical lab technician at Ciba Specialty Chemicals (Switzerland) in 1998. After a couple of years in industry, she completed bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland and the University of Basel (both Switzerland), respectively. She received her Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry at Monash University (Australia) in 2014 and was a CAS Future Leader in 2015. Currently, Manuela is working as a research fellow at Monash University, is a committee member of the Royal Australian Chemistry Institute and is the co-founder of Scientists without Labels, a non-profit initiative to broaden the visibility of minority groups in the field of science.

The composition of people in leadership positions, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine, is often lacking representation of minorities groups. Women and other subgroups remain highly underrepresented on boards and panels, in faculty positions and senior corporate roles. Even though the percentage of women obtaining a science or engineering degree has increased in the last decades, the number of women in leading positions in industry and academia is lagging behind.

Increasing the visibility of minority groups through storytelling

During my undergraduate studies at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, we were only two women and about 25 men in the chemistry program and there was only one female professor in the department. At the time, I never thought much about it—and classrooms are usually more gender balanced nowadays—but the lack of role models from a diverse background is a reoccurring topic raised by students and early career researchers. It is also frequently mentioned as a contributing factor when students decide against a career in science or when talented young scientists drop out of science.

I never experienced a lack of role models when growing up, likely due to the fact that I had no scientific aspiration at that stage of my life. However, hearing the concerns of students and young professionals repeatedly as a young scientist was a triggering point for me to found Scientists without Labels with two other passionate post-doctoral researchers, Amy Chen and Shaz Sivanesan. The aim behind this non-for-profit initiative is to increase the visibility of minority groups in science by sharing the stories of young and established researchers from diverse backgrounds. Their inspiring stories are shared on our new website, as well as social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

Embracing the benefits of a diverse workforce

In my career, I was fortunate to have experienced environments where diversity was not just accepted but truly celebrated. One of these was the 2015 CAS Future Leaders program, where 20 diverse and talented early-career scientists from around the world were invited to visit the CAS headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Over a period of a week, we got to know the day-to-day business behind the scientific information solution, SciFinder, while being provided many networking and professional development opportunities. The program concluded with us attending the ACS Fall 2015 National Meeting & Exposition in Boston.

Marginalized groups are often disadvantaged in their career progression and feel a lack of empathy. There is a need for cultural change considering the compelling evidence that diverse teams are more creative, innovative and effective. Additionally, it is vital to have diverse leaders at the table to adequately address the problems of our complex society. The CAS Future Leaders program is a great example showing how celebrating diversity can not only inspire and motivate young researchers from around the world, but also influence the future generation of leaders.

Are you or do you mentor a Ph.D. student or postdoctoral scholar who would like to learn about and experience the benefits of diversity in scientific leadership? Read more about the CAS Future Leaders program today.