A Journey Starts with a Roundtable

As I mentioned a few months ago in this column, ASTM International is spending time in 2020 to focus on diversity and inclusion. Already, a cross-divisional team that I formed has met several times to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion as it relates to our global staff, our worldwide membership, and our governance structure.

We are doing this because we know that organizations are more likely to achieve their mission and flourish when they embrace such efforts. And, of course, it’s simply the right thing to do.

As part of this, I recently had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable lunch with 11 women members at our January/February committee week meetings in Atlanta, Georgia.

It was a great conversation, and I had a few key takeaways from it.

First, it’s clear that we are not starting from scratch. The women noted that ASTM International’s core commitment to openness and consensus-based decision-making in the standards development process provides us with a strong foundation on which to build diversity and inclusion initiatives for our membership and beyond. The fact that each unique voice matters in the standards developoment process is a crucial part of our overall ethos.

A second point discussed at the roundtable is that inclusion is equally as important as diversity. The women talked about how crucial it is to create an environment of inclusion and belonging from the first time someone new comes to a committee or subcommittee meeting. Committee officers who both seek and respect the input of new members — particularly those who might not feel like they fit in — is absolutely critical. A little help with networking, introductions, making group plans for dinner, and mentoring goes a long way, and both our staff and our existing members can play a bigger role in supporting that. 

Third, the women noted how leadership styles often vary from person to person. As more women enter technical fields, it’s no surprise that more women are taking leadership roles on various ASTM International committees and subcommittees. It’s important — and healthy — to create an environment in which those officers can lead effectively, regardless of whether the leadership reflects the way things have always been done.

I was pleased that the conversation sparked comments on a wide array of topics.  

For example, the women noted that many of the younger members are more comfortable with new technologies than older members. How do we harness new technologies while remaining inclusive of every generation?  

Others noted that we should try to foster more networks of small social groups, such as the women’s group within our amusement rides and devices committee.  

Still other participants said that we need to be more intentional in recruiting students through outreach and competitions.

Overall, what I realized by the end of the conversation is that promoting diversity and inclusion is a journey that leading, world-class organizations must take. It’s not just one program, one event, or a nice thing to do. Instead, it’s a core commitment that requires ongoing effort and intentional action. And, of course, gender is just one aspect of diversity. Personally, I plan to have another roundtable or two this year with geographically and ethnically diverse groups of members, for example.

I know that many of you have probably been involved in such journeys in your workplace or in other organizations. Our internal team has been researching many different organizations, looking at their commitment statements and annual reports of diversity and inclusion efforts. As we continue on our journey, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to ensure the success of such efforts within the ASTM International experience.

Katharine E. Morgan
President, ASTM International

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