The Canadian Chemical Engineering Conference (CCEC) 2020’s special equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) programming brought EDI to the forefront of the conversations happening in the Canadian chemical engineering community. This special program was presented at CCEC in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). With a plenary panel, symposia presentations, and an interactive workshop, participants had the opportunity to listen, reflect, and engage on the big issues surrounding how to support best practices in EDI.

The special program launched on day 3 of CCEC, with a plenary panel discussion “Building effective EDI practices: A panel discussion with changemakers.” This panel was moderated by NRC’s VP Emerging Technologies and women in STEM champion, Geneviève Tanguay, featuring panelists Denise Pothier, VP Practice Services and VP Indigenous Relations at Stantec, Catherine Mavriplis, Professor and NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering at the University of Ottawa, and Paulette Vincent Ruz, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan.

The panel discussion centered around the topic of allyship and how anyone can step up to be an ally to support their colleagues, students, and peers. The panelists candidly discussed the challenges they have faced and the support that they have received from allies along the way. While everyone in the chemical engineering community can do the work of allyship, leaders have a special obligation to ensure that our communities are equitable and inclusive. The panelists also reminded us that being an ally is an ongoing practice and that it will sometimes be uncomfortable. Allies need to push through this discomfort to help ensure that STEM is an equitable and inclusive environment for everyone. Vincent Ruz reminded all of us that “being an ally means there is no longer an excuse to not put in the work.”

As part of the EDI programming, the conference also included two powerful special symposia, with speakers from across North America, with one symposium on advancing EDI practices and the other focusing broadly on allyship within the chemical engineering community. The topic of representation in STEM came up in many of the talks. On the heels of the historic announcement of the two most recent Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, Yanet Villasana from Universidad Regional Amazónica Ikiam highlighted the impact this will have on young girls reminding us that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Following her, Alex Veinot, MCIC, from Queen’s University discussed barriers facing Indigenous Peoples in STEM and some of the resources that have helped him navigate academia.

Highlighting work on the LGBTQ+ in STEM conference, John Hayward, MCIC, from the University of Windsor showcased efforts to build community (including through CIC member resource groups) for LGBTQ+ people in Canadian chemical sciences and across STEM fields. Jacky Deng, MCIC, from the University of Ottawa highlighted smaller actions you can take to be a better ally and combat racism, such as engaging with the science of BIPOC students at conferences or highlighting BIPOC scientists in your course work. Many of the speakers also emphasized the importance of taking an intersectional approach to EDI practices. We are so grateful to all the speakers in these sessions for taking the time to help educate the Canadian chemical sciences community on how to best support EDI practices in our own spaces.

The EDI programming also included an interactive workshop led by Gordon Jolly from NRC. During this workshop, we used interactive engagement tools like Mentimeter and the breakout rooms in Zoom to discuss our own diversity and talk about EDI within teams. The small groups discussed the strengths of having diverse teams, including the fact that it leads to more diverse perspectives and ideas. Participants also suggested that creating an inclusive team environment allows people to bring their whole selves to work/school, which in turn means that they can do their best work. At the same time, the group acknowledged that doing the work to create diverse and inclusive teams can have challenges, especially because it can take time away from the research or work that you are actually supposed to be doing. Building diverse and inclusive teams takes time and effort, but the group highlighted how much that effort pays off with the comfort of allowing people to be themselves and contribute their innovative ideas to the team.

The special EDI programming at CCEC 2020 brought together a wide range of people in the Canadian chemical sciences and broader STEM community, giving the attendees and participants the opportunity to listen, reflect, and learn from the speakers’ experiences and expertise. Now it’s our turn to bring that knowledge back to our own teams and communities and to take the time to listen and support our diverse community.

Are you looking to continue the conversation and get involved in making changes within the chemical sciences community?

  • Learn more about the CIC Member Resource Groups. The MRGs support people with shared identities, values, and vision to build community together at the grassroots level.
    • Current member resource groups include the Canadians Working for Inclusivity in Chemical Sciences, Engineering, and Technology Network, which promotes inclusivity, equity, and diversity in the chemical sciences across Canada by developing a community for women and minorities. Find a local CWIC group or apply to start a new one!
    • Contact us to get involved in the development of a new MRG, such as an Indigenous MRG or 2SLGBTQ+ MRG.
  • Learn more about some of the work being done by our speakers:
    • Chair for Women in Science in Engineering-Ontario, where Catherine Mavriplis serves as the Chair, serves to empower women and girls to thrive in science and engineering from the classroom to the boardroom.
    • Engiqueers, co-founded by Vanessa Raponi, is a network of queer engineering students and allies across Canada.
    • LGBTQ+ STEM conference, co-organized by John Hayward brings together researchers from all disciplines to celebrate 2SLGBTQ+ contributions.
  • Learn more about the discussion that occurred as part of the “Catalyzing change in the chemical engineering community: An open forum” workshop and view the summary document.