Computing Profession From the ACM CEO

Communicating ACM Priorities

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Vicki L. Hanson

Having not had an opportunity to meet in person with our community since the beginning of COVID-19, I have opted for this less personal way to reach out to you. I recognize that in an organization as large and structurally complex as ACM, communication with all constituencies, while challenging, is essential. I would like to begin this series with some reflections on ACM's core values.

Events of the past two years have raised the social consciousness of us all. There is a desire by many to work in areas of computing that have the potential to improve our society. There is also a desire to be part of a professional organization whose values reflect who we are as individuals. Over time, ACM has defined a set of core values that underlie all our activities and interactions. These values are technical excellence, education and technical advancement, ethical computing and technology for positive impact, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Here I will focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This core value motivates ACM's five-year goal of continuing to diversify the ACM global community, providing a welcoming community for all. The fact that this goal is stated in terms of continuing to diversify the community is an acknowledgment, first, that we have made progress, and second, that our work here is not yet done.

For years, ACM's commitment to gender diversity has been deeply woven into the fabric of ACM's committees and activities. Over the past two years, however, many community members have drawn attention to the fact that racial and ethnic equity have not been similarly prioritized. As an organization, it is imperative that ACM promote equity across all our activities by re-examining existing processes that have allowed this situation to persist. We do so recognizing that the need for DEI is not only an issue of fairness, but also of excellence; research consistently finds that diverse teams produce better results than non-diverse teams. Multiple voices, bringing new perspectives, increase both the breadth and depth of ACM's important work.

Fortunately, there are some recent signs of change within the Association. Many ACM boards, councils, committees, and SIGs are actively recruiting and appointing leaders from historically underserved communities. Notably, appointments to several influential positions (for example, awards committees) are more diverse. Many SIGs and other units have developed specific programs to benefit underserved community members. There is progress, but still more to do.

There are some areas where significant change requires more time. For example, in terms of elected leadership, ACM and SIG officers serve for multiple years, and appointments to many other key positions across all volunteer units have multi-year appointments. Given the scope and scale of ACM, visible changes throughout leadership will necessarily unfold over time.

There are other cases where change, while meaningful, is not highly visible. This past year saw questioning of ACM's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This concern highlights the need to ensure appropriate processes are in place in all ACM nomination and selection processes. The ACM Awards committee, for example, has recently made process changes. In addition, through an ACM Bulletin and letters I sent to leaders of diversity-focused computing organizations, ACM seeks to create a more diverse pool of nominees from which to select award recipients. While these changes may not be highly visible, the changes are very real and directly intended to improve diversity and equity in the awards process, starting with the current 2021 Awards nomination cycle.

ACM's DEI Council is building for sustainable change throughout the organization. The Council will be focusing on increasing diversity representation across all ACM activities, re-examining ACM processes and practices to promote equity, and enhancing the culture to be more inclusive for ACM's global community. Such changes need the efforts of everyone. As a member driven society, not only ACM leadership, but all members of the community can help drive the change we need. In particular, ACM needs the participation of historically underserved members of the community to highlight where processes or activities create barriers to participation or advancement.

But while these voices are desperately needed to highlight problems, the burden for making needed change cannot rest solely on those who have been underserved. It is up to all involved in ACM to address inequities. For those reading this who already are ACM volunteers, consider how your part of the organization addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion. Are there processes or activities that need to be changed or improved? For all members, can you think of new ideas for moving beyond the status quo?

I look forward to continuing this conversation.

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