Standardization News

On the Journey

ASTM International has launched organization-wide efforts to further its focus on diversity and inclusion.
Cicely Enright

For more than 120 years, ASTM International has committed and recommitted itself to the principles of an international standards organization available to all — anyone, anywhere — as a forum to develop needed standards. The words should be familiar: open, transparent, balanced, consensus-driven.

“By our nature, ASTM International compels us as an organization to practice a level of diversity and inclusion,” says William Ells, vice chair of the ASTM board, member of the pedestrian/walkway safety and footwear committee (F13), and vice president of sales at Vibram USA. “With 30,000-plus members from 160 countries, memorandums of understanding with 115+ standards bodies, and having served the common good for almost 125 years, we have put the very meaning of diversity and inclusion into practice.”

Ells adds that he has seen an evolution toward additional diversity and inclusion at meetings over the years of his involvement, seeing more members from different cultures and backgrounds. But “ASTM is on a very long journey and has already come a long way — and like us all, still has a distance to travel,” he says. 

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ASTM International President Katharine Morgan says that ASTM needed to consider its progress on this front. “We felt the time was right to do an assessment of where ASTM is, and ask how we know if we’re making any improvements. We’re running programs, but are they effective? What more could we be doing?” she says.

Now, new initiatives are growing from a metric on the topic, including a Diversity and Inclusion Council formed to further D&I across the organization: board, members, and staff. It’s a journey, agree those involved: We’ve started but there’s always room to grow. They also agree that D&I benefits standards development as well as the people involved. 

The Metric Group

A metric group of 20+ staffers from across the organization came together in late 2019 to begin their work on D&I. Their plan was to explore D&I at ASTM and consider next steps to further potential programs. The group began work within the context of current programs and initiatives such as the Emerging Professionals Program and in relation to ASTM being a signatory to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Gender Responsive Standards declaration.

As metric leader, Morgan wanted the team to start with the same definitions and concepts in their discussions: “You have to start with terminology,” she says. Building an Inclusive Organization by Stephen Frost and Raafi-Karim Alidina became the guide.

“At our first meeting, we quickly energized around one quote in the book: ‘Diversity is a fact; inclusion is a choice,’” says Morgan. She notes that this expression first resonated with her when she researched and decided on the book to provide background for the metric group’s deliberations.

The group sought to understand D&I more thoroughly, where ASTM International currently can be placed on a D&I continuum, and what a further organizational commitment to D&I means. 

The recommendations from the group address initiatives at the board level, such as approving an organizational commitment statement; at the membership level, including an expansion of leadership and member training to enhance D&I throughout the standards development process; and at the staff level, promoting D&I in the hiring process and implementing D&I strategies for staff. The commitment statement, approved by the board of directors at its October 2020 meeting, informs all of these efforts and reads, “Every voice is unique, so every voice matters.” 

“It has been a wonderful experience to be involved in the process of laying the groundwork for this important initiative, and the enthusiastic support we’ve received from the board will go a long way in helping to ensure its ongoing success,” says Noelle Withelder, human resources (HR) manager and group member. “I’m excited about the progress that’s been made so far and I look forward to the continuation of this collaborative journey.”

For Membership

Ells, who currently serves as the board D&I representative, reflects on what that means for membership. “Let’s consider the practices of ASTM, and how we as an organization go about ‘Helping our world work better.’ To be an ASTM member, there is no test nor borders to cross. There are no requirements for level of education, experience, background. We simply hope each member brings a level of passion and desire to the organization. The nature of how ASTM conducts the standards development process has its roots in the larger context of diversity and inclusion. Our principle of being consensus-based mandates that we consider all opinions, and in doing so, if we disagree, put into practice a required level of review, discussion, and resolution.”

“Now we’re looking beyond the ASTM required definition of balance in a committee,” says ASTM staff manager and metric team member Alyson Fick, referring to the prescribed way that committees are diverse: with a voting balance between users/consumers/general interest members and producers. 

She asks, “How can we ensure that our technical committees are as inclusive and welcoming to as diverse a set of stakeholders as possible? Who is not participating at a global level who would bring value to the development of a standard?” These are questions to keep in mind as ASTM explores and encourages D&I within its membership.

An example of how maintaining traditional balance within a committee is insufficient is the impact of gender on sizing for equipment and clothing. That’s why there are separate standards for men’s and women’s lacrosse helmets. This separation helps ensure the best safety and fit for both genders. But does PPE (personal and protective equipment) sizing take that into account? And to think about an area such as testing: Do test protocols consider whether someone who wears eyeglasses or is disabled can perform them, or whether equipment required for a certain test meets the needs of, or is even available for, the majority of users worldwide? 

To begin to gather information about ASTM member views on D&I, an initial survey was sent to the board, executive main committee officers, emerging professionals, and a randomly chosen group of members. One survey conclusion noted that ASTM membership tends to be driven by interest in specific technical topics, word of mouth, and member or company business needs.  

The next step is to consider ways that ASTM’s D&I program can support this organic membership outreach approach. The metric team noted that training through the Emerging Professionals Program and for newer members can increase awareness on the importance of D&I in development activities, and membership marketing can be expanded to more targeted and diverse groups. 

The  team also noted that ASTM will need to broaden outreach to under-represented stakeholder groups. One recommendation was to develop a comprehensive, multi-faceted membership outreach campaign for nontraditional outlets. These stakeholder groups could include minority- or gender-focused STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) student programs and industry associations, minority-owned businesses, and historically black colleges and universities. These are just a few ready options to build on existing efforts.

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When a committee’s work is more global in nature, Ells notes, as with the pedestrian/walkway safety and footwear committee, the foundation is already in place. “Committee F13’s work is most often global in nature. The standards within the committee’s jurisdiction, as is the case for most committees, can be utilized throughout global markets. Our standards can become the standard of record for a particular need. At other times, ASTM standards can be used as alternative standards to others within the global marketplace,“ he says. “Only by having a diverse committee can we truly understand the use and impact of our standards, all while continuing to maintain our International standing.”

That holds true for numerous committees, but challenges remain.

According to Morgan, the challenge is that “Members are volunteers, and companies choose who will represent them. So we have less influence on what happens there, but we can still recruit through nontraditional sources and raise awareness with more targeted marketing and outreach to try and reach these groups that aren’t currently represented or are underrepresented.” 

She adds that a further challenge over the past several months has been the completely virtual meetings environment. “How do we make people feel included when they don’t have the opportunity to meet face to face? The new people who joined these technical committees, how do we get them feeling comfortable and part of the committee environment and integral to the committee success? How do we give them that ownership in a virtual world?” 

The council will be investigating current industry D&I practices with an eye toward raising awareness in committee leaders or furthering existing committee work in this area. From a seemingly simple thing like scheduling to balance between time zones globally, to helping new members more quickly become comfortable working in the ASTM milieu, a membership task group is tackling these challenges and opportunities. 

“ASTM supports our committee activity, and part of that is helping committees strategize and explore the industry stakeholders who need to provide input,” Fick says. “By expanding our perspective, we can help ensure a standard is relevant globally and meets the needs of a diverse community.”

For Staff

On the staff side, thoughts shared anonymously during the metric work included that some departments have more diversity than others, at least with regard to ethnicity, age, and gender, and even more so when thinking about life experience, education, and career paths. Still, there’s more to do, starting with gauging staff understanding of D&I and building on it. 

“Our goal is to periodically seek input from staff in order to involve and engage everyone in ASTM’s D&I journey,” says WIthelder. That could involve both an initial survey and then follow-up surveys to measure progress. She believes a commitment to diversity and inclusion will have positive outcomes for ASTM staff. “Working towards a collaborative environment in which everyone feels empowered to share their perspectives and ideas will help ASTM to accomplish more as an organization,” seh says. “It also provides a unique opportunity to learn from each other and grow as individuals — both personally and professionally.”

Withelder notes that there are tangible research-based initiatives that HR can implement quickly such as thinking about where ASTM advertises open positions — various job boards can be used to reach a broader pool of applicants. HR is also looking at the full hiring process and making sure job descriptions communicate ASTM’s commitment to D&I as well as addressing any unconscious biases that may exist in the selection and interviewing processes. 

For new and existing staff, ASTM can promote an atmosphere of inclusion and community with orientation and training when introducing organizational staff functions. In addition, staff groups for shared interests on networking sites like Yammer can build community and connection.

“We want to build awareness and understanding,” says Morgan. “Ultimately this will become more and more a part of the ASTM culture.” 

More to Come

“As I look to the future of the organization and the goals of the D&I council, I’m happy to know that the process of understanding where we are today, both internally and externally, has already begun,” Ells says. “Then will come the questions of what needs to be considered and enacted to drive further efforts, both within our ASTM society and in society as a whole.”

“If you dig deep enough, everybody is different. You’re going to find diversity, but inclusion is what we really have to work on to make sure that people feel this sense of belonging and feel accepted for who they are,” says Morgan. “Then they’re going to be more productive and open; more rewarded and fulfilled.” ■

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