Anne Grillet: Featured Chemical Engineering LGBTQ+ Ally

Pictured above is Anne Grillet after receiving the SWE Prism award for technical accomplishments and professional leadership in September 2020.

2/10   in the series AIChE Celebrates Pride Month

June is Pride Month in the U.S. This year, AIChE observes Pride Month by talking to LGBTQ+ chemical engineers and their allies to hear some of their individual stories, challenges, achievements, and more.  

AIChE began the series featuring LGBTQ+ engineers and their allies in addition to the Pride Month series 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 last year’s Annual Meeting and this year's Spring Meeting. These programs and events are all supported by the AIChE Foundation’s Doing a World of Good Campaign.

In this installment of our series, AIChE Celebrates Pride Month by bringing you an interview with Anne Grillet, who shared her story as an LGBTQ+ ally and project manager at Sandia National Laboratories.

Where did you complete your chemical engineering education?

I receive my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Tulane University in 1993. I continued my ChemE studies at Stanford University, where I obtained my master’s and doctorate, finishing in 1999.

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

I research deformation, physical properties and interfaces of soft materials such as gels and polymers. Much of my research is focused on understanding the impact of structure on function and also materials for power sources, such as batteries and capacitors. At this point in my career, my days are generally focused on project management. A typical day involves organizing teams, analyzing data, and interacting with customers rather than directly working in a lab.

In the workplace, what has been your experience of working with LGBTQ+ chemical engineers? Can you recall a specific experience where you showed support or welcomed an LGBTQ+ engineer? If so, what was that like?

Twenty years ago when I first started my professional career, the very first post-doc I hired identified as LGBTQ+.  At that time, being LGBTQ could prevent someone from attaining a security clearance. It was a serious impediment to pursuing a career at the National Labs. I supported them, both in gaining technical skills as well as in their career goals. They were great at running experiments in the lab and showed independence and leadership in setting research direction. Success for me as their mentor meant that they were able to transition to a permanent job at the Labs.

Does your organization do anything to foster inclusivity for LGBTQ+ people? If so, how do they engage allies?

My workplace has an employee resource group for our LGBTQ+ & allies community called the Sandia Pride Alliance Network (SPAN).  One way they engage allies is to expand the reach of their message. For example, during Pride Month, the Sandia Women’s Network and SPAN will co-host events so that a broader group of employees can hear about the perspective and current issues faced by our respective communities. They also have an executive champion, Dr. Susan Seestrom, who is the Associate Lab Director and Chief Research Officer for Sandia. She stands up and vocally supports SPAN at meetings with employees and specifically during Pride Month.  

Are there examples where you were able to advocate as an ally in a way that was especially effective in educating bystanders (even if it might not have changed the mind of a person you needed to challenge)? 

One example that has really stuck with me is the platinum rule. We all know the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. The platinum rule gives it an interesting twist: treat others as they want to be treated. This acknowledges that how I want to be treated may not be the way you want to be treated, so this approach requires more empathy to meet people where they are.  

My pronouns may not be the same as yours and that’s all OK. True respect is honoring those differences by treating others the way they would like to be treated.

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

An easy step is to take the time to nominate your LGBTQ+ colleagues for awards to help them gain professional recognition and raise them up as role models for people just starting their careers. The National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals offers multiple awards for both advocacy and technical contributions at a range of career stages. Other organizations such as AIChE and Society of Women Engineers also offer many professional awards.

I think whenever you speak up, you make a difference in the lives of other people. The more you speak up, the more people know that they aren’t alone; and that jokes or stereotypes are not appropriate. As an ally, you can help share the burden of shifting the cultural norms. I think sharing your own pronouns is an easy way to open the door to the fact that not all people want to be called by a gendered pronoun.  

While awareness of biases is a great first step, we can’t stop there. We have to design hiring and promotion practices that are fair and transparent for everyone.    

In your opinion, why is AIChE’s LGBTQ+ & Allies initiative an important one?

In order to achieve a culture where all people are valued without needing to belong to a certain class, people need to be willing to stand up and speak; to say it is time for a change. That burden of change shouldn’t rest only on the group that is being marginalized. The more people we can engage to help speak up for the LGBTQ+ community, the faster we can make changes.

Tell us about your personal life.

I am married and have two kids, two cats, a dog and several dozen fish. I also love to cook!

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

The Lavender Scare is a part of U.S. government history that really left a mark on me personally. I had heard with my first post-doc that sexual orientation was cause for being kicked out of the military, but it wasn’t until years later that I learned how widespread that bigotry was. All of these bright and talented people were excluded from serving our nation, among other careers. To this day, LGBTQ people are still fighting for the right to be treated with human dignity and that is shocking to me. An amazing amount of progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.

Do you have a story about an effective or inspirational professional ally or LGBTQ+ person you’d like to share? Or a personal story related to an LGBTQ+ friend or family member?

My sister is my greatest inspiration for getting more active in LBGTQ ally-ship. During her terminal fight with cancer which ended with her passing in 2019, I learned more about the ways she had been trying to change the culture in the Navy where she achieved the rank of Commander. The Navy will be honoring her LGBTQ+ advocacy with a named award for allies. I know she faced significant challenges in her career and if I can help someone weather those difficult situations, I would like to do that.    

What’s your dream getaway?

I have always wanted to go to Tuscany, Italy, for the food and the scenery. I had my dream tour picked out which would involve staying at a farmhouse in the countryside and going on day trips to different sites in the region.

Do you have a favorite LGBTQ+ icon?

My favorite LGBTQ+ icon is Leonard Matlovich. He was a decorated Vietnam War veteran who had served in the Air Force for 12 years. He was fired in 1957 after telling the service that he was gay. His headstone reads: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

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.”