Workforce 2050: Charting a Course for the Future

Dow Chemical Executive Katie Hunt encourages you to dream big when you envision the world in 2050.

By Catherine T. "Katie" Hunt, Ph.D., Director of Innovation Sourcing and Sustainable Technologies, The Dow Chemical Co.

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In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Madame Marie Curie winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the U.N. declared 2011 the International Year of Chemistry (IYC). Overall, this year was intended to further public appreciation of chemistry and, more specifically, highlight the important role of women in science. As we count down the final days of 2011, it's time to look back and reflect – but, more importantly, to look ahead and dream. At the IYC closing events in Brussels, young leaders from across the chemical industry gathered together to imagine the world in 2050   – and imagine they did. Their vision included a cleaner, greener, healthier world transformed by chemistry solutions, a world where whole economies were able to meet the growing needs of their people because of chemistry. What does this future look like for women in science?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back for a moment . . . back to when I came home from Smith on my first college break. I remember telling my dad (a chemist himself) that I had declared chemistry as my major. He was shocked and responded, "Chemistry is no place for a woman! Men are just not ready for women in the lab." I told him: "Too late, Dad, you should have told me that sooner. You made me love chemistry and so I'm in it for the long haul!"

As future leaders in chemistry it will not be enough to be "just a scientist."

Clearly, a lot has changed for women in chemistry since I came home from college in 1974. Women, who today fill nearly 50% of the workforce (i), are encouraged to pursue science and a variety of professions. Even more will change for women in chemistry in the future. Growth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering,& Math) jobs has been three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs over the last 10 years; over the next decade, STEM occupations will grow by 17% compared with 9.8-percent growth for others.

What does this mean for the chemistry professional of the future? O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y! But what is the price of that opportunity? In a global economic recession, are women doing whatever it takes to get a job and whatever it takes to get that job done -- even at the expense of their personal health and happiness?

In a world where the boundaries between work and life are being erased by global teams and 24/7 communication technologies, what we need is a redirect; a redirect from work-life balance to work-life effectiveness (ii). Balance implies constant trade-offs where what employers hear is "more flex and less work." With work-life effectiveness, we ask leaders to focus on articulating the "what" – what are we working toward - putting the power of the "how" back into the hands of the employee. If we can do this, we will create a workplace that leverages our skills and abilities to create an unbounded, collaborative, global community: a community where flexibility and individual initiative are not just buzz words, but are respected and valued.

This vision requires leadership. To effect this change, we need the confidence to dream and to lead in new directions. Each of you has the opportunity to lead transformational change in your own roles, in your own ways, every day. You just need the confidence to do it. And you'll have confidence if you have three things: competency, passion, and alignment between your objectives and those of your organization (iii). Two-out-of-three just won't cut it. If you have passion and alignment without competency, you're a rookie. If you have competency and passion without alignment, you've got a hobby. If you have competency and alignment without passion, you've got a chore. With all three – you're changing the game. Cultivate your skills, follow your passion and develop creative ways for your organization to see that your vision matches their vision. It's not always going to be easy, but it will produce results. I promise.

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