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IEEE President’s Column: Extending IEEE’s Global Reach

Diversity and inclusion, financial transparency, and expanding membership are top priorities

4 min read
Photo of José M. F. Mour
Photo: Carnegie Mellon

THE INSTITUTEI would like to update you on the progress reported at the June IEEE Board Series by several ad hoc committees, as well as IEEE’s handling of export control restrictions.

REACHING NEW AUDIENCES

As I mentioned in an earlier column, under the direction of the IEEE Board of Directors, an ad hoc committee is considering new ways for IEEE to engage with the millions of professionals across our areas of interest. These areas cover the spectrum, from electrical and electronic engineering and computer engineering to computer science, robotics and artificial intelligence, biomedical engineering, and information and communication technologies, among others.

The committee is exploring different concepts for how to engage with a significantly expanded audience, new membership models, and new member personas. The committee is also considering what type of infrastructure is needed, as well as product offerings and revenue models to support an expansion of IEEE’s reach.

The committee is also making significant progress on issues such as how IEEE can better engage and be relevant to technologists given their broad diversity of technical, geographic, professional, social, and other interests across the various stages of their career.

At the June IEEE Board meeting, the committee received strong feedback on its ideas from several hundred volunteer leaders and the Board. In addition to debating ways to increase the value and relevance of IEEE to professionals, there was excellent discussion on the question of which technology was best suited to reach such a large group. The committee recognizes that it needs to go beyond Web-based solutions and use mobile applications that provide access to services and products anytime and anywhere. The committee will continue its hard work and deliver recommendations at the Board’s November meeting.

A MORE TRANSPARENT AND INCLUSIVE ORGANIZATION

The Board also received updates on the progress of several other ad hoc committees focused on identifying ways to make IEEE a more transparent, diverse, and inclusive organization.

The ad hoc committee on diversity, inclusion, and professional ethics is working to define, collect, and track diversity metrics on age, gender, geography, race, ethnicity, and work sector across all IEEE organizational units. The committee intends to produce an annual report on diversity that will highlight IEEE’s efforts and progress. It is also working on a website that will include metrics, best practices, and educational materials on diversity and inclusion.

The committee is also looking at IEEE’s professional ethics programs. One of its proposals is to merge the existing codes into a single code of ethics with two high-level principles. Another proposal is to overhaul the IEEE ethics processes to be more responsive to complaints and protect the rights and responsibilities of all involved. I call attention to the article about the ad hoc committee’s formation and plans and the results of the IEEE Women in Tech survey, which provides some sobering statistics.

A second Board-appointed ad hoc committee is exploring ways to improve IEEE’s financial transparency. This entails changing how we record financial transactions at the appropriate level of granularity, leverage project-based accounting and service cost centers, and plan to move charges for overhead expenses to be direct costs. These efforts will help improve the foundational structures underlying IEEE’s financial systems and prepare us to meet our changing needs. The good news is that the focus on budgets has produced a noteworthy turnaround. Our operations have gone from significantly negative budgets to a healthy operational surplus.

At the November Board meeting, we expect to act on the committees’ important recommendations.

MEETING EXPECTATIONS ABOUT IEEE’S GLOBAL NATURE

Our global membership is the heart of IEEE, and I value our commitment and contributions to the profession. In more than 160 countries around the world, IEEE members see each other as part of an international professional community, and I am committed to ensuring this endures.

We are required to comply with legal obligations in the countries where IEEE operates, and we are committed to doing so in a way that is consistent with our international focus. This commitment is becoming increasingly important at a time when IEEE must emphasize its apolitical, global, and technically focused mission.

As I noted in my email to members in early June, IEEE recently found itself reacting to regulatory actions in the United States. In mid-May, the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed export controls on Huawei and 68 of its affiliate companies, naming them on its “entity list,” effectively barring U.S. firms from selling technology to those companies without government approval.

Several days after the export controls were imposed, the Commerce Department announced further licensing rules regarding interactions with Huawei and its affiliates; one rule explicitly identified IEEE by name. We had to react quickly to these actions to provide guidance to IEEE volunteers because of the significant penalties that would be imposed for violations.

In guidance provided to members, we noted that almost all activities conducted by IEEE (such as holding meetings and conferences, receiving and publishing articles in IEEE journals, participating in standards development, and organizing educational activities) were not impacted by the sanctions and were open to all, including the companies and their employees on the entity list.

The only exception was the potential legal risk under U.S. export law of our peer-review process of transferring confidential (unpublished) manuscripts to a small number of Huawei employees.

Our guidelines asked IEEE volunteers to refrain temporarily from involving Huawei’s employees in the confidential peer-review process while we continued to seek interpretation and clarification of the regulations from the U.S. government—which we received on 31 May. We immediately reissued guidance, lifting all restrictions on the peer-review and editorial processes.

During that time, posts on social media—including some picked up by the news media—stated that IEEE had imposed a total ban on employees of Huawei and that we were taking actions contrary to the interests of our members in China. That was never the case and not our intent. I am aware that many IEEE members were upset to see their organization discussed negatively. I apologize for any miscommunication that may have occurred and for the concerns raised.

My June email was an attempt to set the record straight: that IEEE took the action purely to protect our members and the institute from legal risk. We worked quickly to get clarity from the U.S. government and to eliminate even temporary restrictions. We value the support and contributions of all our members around the world.

IEEE remains committed to serving our global membership by building a community of technical professionals, supporting the development and dissemination of research, and advancing humanity through our work.

We are an international organization with global reach. IEEE seeks to ensure that voices from across our membership are represented in all of our activities, while at the same time connecting across and beyond national boundaries. Our efforts are always focused on advancing technology and supporting and protecting our members globally. That is my commitment to you.

Please share your thoughts with me at president@ieee.org.

This article appears in the September 2019 print issue as “IEEE: A Global Organization."

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