Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a phrase that outlines the efforts an organization takes to create a more welcoming environment for people regardless of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status. As a whole, DEI efforts seek to create meaningful, systemic change toward more equitable environments.
SPE’s commitment to DEI principals led to the formation of an Advisory Board to support DEI within the Society and the plastics industry. Through the formation of this Advisory Board, SPE intends to bring these issues to the forefront, while at the same time developing educational, professional development, mentoring, and recruitment resources for SPE’s elected leaders, staff, and members and their companies. SPE’s goal is to ensure a more thorough understanding of the issues and of the inherent value of being more diverse, inclusive, and equitable.
DEI is not an entirely new concept to SPE. DEI programs and initiatives were established early on by the SPE Foundation. The Foundation’s mission, which supports the development of plastics professionals by funding educational programs, grants and scholarships that emphasize science, engineering, sustainability, and manufacturing, is also focused on providing inclusive opportunities for students around the world.
“Our work in the Foundation is to showcase opportunities to students aged 8 to 18 through educational programs,” said Eve Vitale, SPE Foundation’s Chief Executive. “But our programs aren’t just focused on engineering and polymer science. We take a holistic approach that is aimed at building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce for all individuals in the whole plastics industry value chain.”
Patrick Farrey, SPE’s CEO, agrees that the Foundation’s work to create inclusive opportunities has been integral to SPE.
“SPE must be supportive of all individuals to thrive,” said Farrey. “Not only is this what today’s young professionals expect, it is absolutely the right thing to do. With the Foundation’s educational programs and DEI initiatives, exposing people at a younger age to different cultures and/or different orientations, helps to prepare everyone to be better, global citizens.”
One of the Foundation’s community partners, Ecotek Science Lab, which has over 15-years experience working with under-resourced communities, helped to educate the Foundation about the lack of persistent and effective STEM outreach and education in certain geographical areas. With Ecotek’s collaboration, the Foundation is presently engaged in year-round comprehensive plastics education in two under-resourced communities that serve diverse populations: Detroit, Michigan, and Lake Wales, Florida. Filling the plastics workforce pipeline is a challenge but, at the same time, equitable opportunities for students of color in under-resourced communities to investigate and have meaningful interactions with the plastics industry have not, up to this point, been widely created. To address these challenges, the Foundation has expanded its educational programs to adopt and embrace cultural differences. For example, the Foundation has hired black educators from the community to deliver PlastiVan to these communities because they are seen by students as credible and reliable messengers.
“One thing we noted was that when we were in school districts with demographics that were not predominately white and middle class, our PlastiVan educators did not seem like credible messengers in under-resourced communities,” said Vitale. “Hiring black educators has increased the relatability factor that students in these districts have embraced. The response from students, families, teachers and administrators in Detroit and Lake Wales has been overwhelmingly positive.”
As a founding member of the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment, SPE has collaborated on creating tools, guidelines and business practices to remove the barriers to inclusion which caused many women (and some others) to leave the field.
“Professional Societies have sometimes been described as ‘good old boys’ clubs,” said Farrey. “SPE, along with other STEM-related Societies wanted to address some systemic behaviors which made women in these organizations sometimes feel excluded or uncomfortable. SPE is striving to create an environment in which everyone feels respected and valued, and has equal opportunities to develop, advance, and be heard.”
If you would like to keep up to date on SPE’s DEI news, initiatives, and program development, please submit your contact information and we’ll make sure you are kept informed about all our DEI developments.
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