A commitment to equality unites the chemical societies that make up the Commonwealth Chemistry community

Imagine this: a community through which chemical societies around the world bring together academia, industry and decision makers in a collaborative forum, where all countries have an equal voice, and is the exemplar model of true diversity and inclusivity.

This is what we hope to achieve through Commonwealth Chemistry. Our origins go back to 2018, when over 30 societies from different Commonwealth countries came together to discuss the value of forming a federation. The group agreed that the one thing that brings a diverse grouping of countries together is a commitment to the values and principles of the Commonwealth. Tolerance, respect and understanding, gender equality, supporting young people and recognising the needs of small and vulnerable states are all vital for us to achieve our goals.

We reflect these principles in the Commonwealth Chemistry vision statement: One community, one voice, catalysing equality for all. Equal and inclusive representation from all Commonwealth nations with the recognition that those with greater resources will contribute more in order to support those with fewer resources.

But these can be considered just words. When the rubber hits the road, can the members of the federation actually hold hand on heart and show that we live by these values? Well, 2020 has been the year to prove that we do.

We currently have 10 culturally diverse countries represented on the executive board with 50:50 gender balance. The first Commonwealth Chemistry Congress, which was to be held during May 2020 in Trinidad and Tobago, was built on highlighting diversity in speakers and attendees. All Commonwealth countries were invited to participate and to nominate three early career chemists to attend so as to present their work and network with potential collaborators and peers. Measures were in place to ensure at least 30% of speakers, chairs and attendees would be women, with an equal distribution of representation of the Commonwealth regions.

Then Covid-19 hit, and the event was postponed. But the executive board was agile and true to Commonwealth Chemistry’s vision. It quickly organised a three day online event to allow early career chemists to still share their research, network and engage in scientific debate around six themes aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The event was a huge success: 226 delegates from 40 countries participated, 112 of which were early career chemists and around half of which were women. Despite being developed at short notice, the meeting achieved our aims so effectively that it will now become an annual event.

Our articles and rules outline the expectation of respect and equality that should be shown to all members of our scientific community

This year has also seen race inequality highlighted throughout society. The executive board discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, and agreed that our articles and rules outline the expectation of respect and equality that should be shown to all members of our scientific community. This sentiment and commitment was further reinforced following the infamous Angewandte Chemie essay that expressed the untrue position that diversity has negative effects on scientific research. In response, many Commonwealth chemical societies endorsed a shared statement outlining their commitment to eradicating any type of discrimination from the chemical sciences.

So what’s next? Well, Commonwealth Chemistry will release its website in early 2021, which will be a platform for members to share resources. We are also starting our first research project investigating the barriers for early career chemists across the Commonwealth, and we hope this will inform further initiatives to increase inclusiveness in research. Finally, we are planning our postponed first Chemistry Congress and AGM, both of which will be virtual, as well as the second Congress (to be held in 2022 in Trinidad and Tobago).

But importantly, Commonwealth Chemistry will only achieve its vision through the ongoing participation of its members. I strongly encourage your chemical society or organisation to join the federation and to participate in activities that, in the words of our vision statement, strive to build one community, one voice, catalysing equality for all.