Alan Bahl: Featured LGBTQ+ ChemE Professional

In continuation of the celebration of Pride Month, AIChE presents the most recent post in this series featuring LGBTQ+ engineers and their allies as part of an ongoing effort to share stories of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Other related efforts include a variety of LGBTQ+ programs and events at this year’s Annual Meeting and those held at least year's meeting. These programs and events were all supported by the AIChE Foundation’s Doing a World of Good Campaign.

In this installment of our series, we interviewed Alan Bahl who discusses his experience as an LGBTQ+ ChemE professional working in EHS for the MBCC Group, a chemical manufacturer.

Where did you complete your chemical engineering education?

I received my BS from Carnegie Mellon University and my MChE from Johns Hopkins University.

How many years have you been a member of AIChE? 

I have been a member of AIChE for 35 years.

Tell us a bit about your job and your job responsibilities. What’s a typical day at work? 

I’m an Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) auditor for my company who manufactures chemicals.  I’m responsible for managing the EHS Audit program for approximately 30 facilities across North, Central, and South America. Each day is different (which makes it more appealing for me). Some days may be spent reviewing documents to prepare for an audit; others are spent at the manufacturing facility conducting the audit; and other days, I may be working with facilities to improve their EHS program.

Tell us a bit about your experience as an out LGBTQ+ professional working in engineering.

My first company didn’t have an LGBTQ+ organization. There was no overt discrimination, but I still didn’t feel comfortable telling people at work. After 14 years of working there, I had only shared my homosexuality with one person. When I worked for BASF, they had an LGBTQ+ organization which made me feel very welcome. I was active in the organization and had my picture featured on the cover of their brochure. It was a very nice experience.

What are the most important issues that LGBTQ+ engineers deal with in the workplace today?

Acceptance. I assume that most LGBTQ+ people have struggled with how much personal information to disclose at work. It would be nice to live in a world where we didn’t have to worry about whether we were accepted or not. We’ll know that we’ve been accepted when we can talk about our partners the same way that a heterosexual person can talk about their partner.

Do you know others in the profession who struggle with being out in today’s workplace?

Most of my friends (50+/- years old) don’t discuss their homosexuality openly at work,  but I don’t know anyone that has been overtly discriminated against.

Here, Alan (far left) is pictured at an oSTEM Conference at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 2015.

How can people (peers who are allies, and members of management and leadership who are allies) help foster a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ chemical engineers?

Create an LGBTQ+ organization within the company. Have that organization host events to make it known that (1) they exist and (2) the company supports it.  At a minimum, it will keep anti-LGBTQ+ people from overtly discriminating against us.

Does your organization do anything to foster inclusivity for LGBTQ+ people? If so, please describe.

My current company does not. I miss it from my days at BASF.

Do you have any suggestions of what out LGBTQ+ chemical engineers can do to help make their professional climate more safe, welcoming, and inclusive for diverse engineers?

A company organization with LGBTQ+ and allies is the best way. We need to be visible and for anti-LGBTQ+ people to know that the company supports us.

Tell us a bit about your personal life

I live in New Jersey and I'm single. I’m a bit of an introvert, as I suspect many engineers are. My personality plus work travel can make it difficult to meet people. That’s why I’m a member of several meetup groups for hiking and socializing.

Are there any LGBTQ+ inspirations, role models, or moments in history that are important to you?  

  1. Stonewall uprising 1969. If you listen to the stories, you can hear how tormented LGBTQ+ people were. The uprising was our way of saying “enough.”
  2. Matthew Shepherd’s murder. He was killed for being nothing other than gay. We need to remember that the world has many people who think that his murder was justified and acceptable.

Do you have a coming out story you’d like to share?

Most people that I’ve come out to have been supportive. The majority said that they knew and wondered why I waited so long to tell them.

Here, Alan is pictured surfing on a sand dune in Swakopmund, Namibia, next to the Atlantic Ocean.

What’s your dream getaway?

National Geographic operates a month-long, round-the-world tour that includes a private airplane, five-star hotels, and access to insiders at many of the most interesting sites in the world. However, at $100,000 it will remain a dream unless I win the lottery lol.

Gaydar: Does it exist?

Of course! Who hasn’t done the turn around after passing someone on the street lol.

Join AIChE’s LGBTQ+ & Allies Online Community

This community is open to professional AIChE members who are LGBTQ+ and allies. Topics of discussion will include the ongoing development of LGBTQ+ initiatives within AIChE, plus issues concerning, and opportunities for, LGBTQ+ chemical engineering professionals.

The LGBTQ+ & Allies Community supports the IDEAL path. 

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Learn more about AIChE's Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives.

Interested in helping?

Are you an LGBTQ+ chemical engineer and AIChE member interested in sharing your story to help create awareness around diversity and inclusion? Are you an LGBTQ+ ally interested in helping with diversity and inclusion efforts? Send us a note at chenected@aiche.org with the subject “Diversity and Inclusion.”