Corporate Responsibility

Attaining a balance in science

By Editorial Team, Chemicals Knowledge Hub

Prior to the 1970s, fundamental contributions of women to science were rarely acknowledged. Just four decades later, it’s intere

Prior to the 1970s, fundamental contributions of women to science were rarely acknowledged. Just four decades later, it’s interesting to hear some young women wonder “what all the fuss is about” – testimony to the progress made in striving for balance from the classroom to the boardroom. Chemicals Knowledge is pleased to introduce this new regular feature, providing inspirational insights into the careers of women who have succeeded in science. In our first in the series, we talk to Jennifer Abril, President and CEO of SOCMA.

Jennifer Abril is President and CEO of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), a US-based trade association delivering customized solutions for specialty chemical manufacturing, commercial development and regulatory and legal compliance. We spoke to her about her inspirations and experiences as a Woman in Science.
Q: Who inspired you, as a younger woman?
My first boss and mentor greatly moulded my values surrounding organizational leadership and structure. He taught me two important things: 1) give everyone on your team – no matter their position – the opportunity to provide a solution to a problem; and 2) go out of your way to create authentic relationships so you know the people you do business with. He taught me success is achieved when you foster relationships built on trust and communication.
Q: What career path led you to this prestigious role at SOCMA?
I am fortunate to be at SOCMA now for the second time in my career.  As a young professional, I worked for a firm that built business coalitions to advocate for issues like regulatory reform and open trade policies.  I interacted regularly with the American Chemistry Council (ACC). When ACC expanded their international department, I signed on and, in that capacity, worked with SOCMA throughout my 8 years there.  I then joined SOCMA where I helped build and launch ChemStewards.  I then served 8 years as the President of the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), North America before returning to SOCMA in October 2016 as President and CEO.  For me, it is an honour to serve an organization with such a rich history and standing.
Q: To what do you attribute the growth and increased focus on STEM?
For the past 15 years, a concerted effort within the US from government and academia has emphasized the importance of STEM disciplines, and the chemical industry has responded by working to give visibility and provide for foundational competencies within the sector. Programs like company-sponsored science fairs, an increasing number of scholarship programs, and Chemical Educational Foundation’s You be the Chemist challenge have all contributed to attracting young people back to careers in STEM.
Q: How important is it to educate and mentor emerging leaders in the industry?
It is critically important that we engage our future leaders as quickly as possible. As baby boomers retire and the available workforce shrinks, the knowledge gap will continue to increase and be extremely difficult to replace.  But SOCMA believes we can help.
Through our Emerging Leaders Peer Group, we offer new industry leaders the opportunity to make peer-to-peer connections, identify mentors, and develop professional networks. Led by one of our own emerging leaders, the Emerging Leaders Peer Group allows professionals who may be facing similar issues and challenges to talk candidly and openly.
Just last month, we had an outstanding panel discussion at Specialty & Custom Chemicals America in Fort Worth, where representatives from SOCMA member companies shared their perspective on the future of the industry and insight regarding the demand of workforce development and training. Many of our emerging leaders had multiple opportunities to connect. In the coming year, we will continue to develop programming and educational opportunities for this demographic.
Q: How does SOCMA encourage the progression of more women in specialties?
I am encouraged by our industry’s desire and openness to expand the diversity of voices at the table. With specific regard to women, over the past 3 years I have seen a significant shift in female representation in leadership roles. Right now, 50% of SOCMA staff and 20% of SOCMA board members are women, up from about a third when I first started.
At a recent women’s networking event hosted by SOCMA, we were thrilled to welcome more than 50 representatives in various stages of their career and roles. From owners, plant operators, procurement managers, sales and marketing leaders, chemical engineers, lawyers and business school graduates, women in industry were well represented.
SOCMA recognizes there is a desire and opportunity for women in our industry to share our unique experiences together.  We are committed to exploring avenues to further those conversations through specialized forums and discussion groups. In the next couple of months, we’ll be launching a new LinkedIn group specifically designed to foster connections and establish relationships among women in the specialties sector.
Q: Is there anything we should look forward to coming up at SOCMA?
This is a very exciting time for SOCMA.  We have rolled out a number of new initiatives over the past 12 months with more coming this year and beyond.  Stay tuned, or better yet, become a member and join our growing community!
Interview with:
Jennifer Abril, President and CEO of SOCMA, 1400 Crystal Drive, Suite 630, Arlington, VA 22202, USA
T: +1 571 348-5100