Imperial College London

Staff praised for empowering women academics

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Eleven people standing in a room with paintings

This year's winners with Professor Stephen Curry, Professor Ian Walmsley and Professor Dame Julia Higgins at the award ceremony

Imperial staff received this year’s Julia Higgins Medal and Awards for their work to support the progress of women in science.

The medal and awards are named in honour of Professor Dame Julia Higgins FRS, Senior Research Investigator in the Department of Chemical Engineering and current President of the Institute of Physics.

“Gender equality remains an important priority for the College; we will continue to drive this area to make sure that our culture is friendly and inclusive and to provide an environment where everybody can succeed.” Professor Ian Walmsley Provost

In her opening speech, Professor Dame Higgins said: “I started working on tackling the lack of senior women in the College and increasing the number of women recruited into academic positions in the late 1990s, along with other senior colleagues in the Academic Opportunities Committee (now called the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Group).

"At the same time, I was also involved in setting up the Athena Project, which was at the origin of the Athena SWAN Awards. It is great to see this work expand to other areas of equality, diversity an inclusion, most recently by the College becoming a member of the Race Equality Charter.”

Professor Stephen Curry, Assistant Provost for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, presented the awards alongside Imperial’s Provost, Professor Ian Walmsley. 

Professor Walmsley said: “There is a vast resource of intellectual capability that we are not yet fully accessing. This provides us with an opportunity to increase the number of women academics. Gender equality remains an important priority for the College; we will continue to drive this area to make sure that our culture is friendly and inclusive and to provide an environment where everybody can succeed.

This year, medals were awarded to Dr Jess Wade and Dr Emma Chapman, and four awards were conferred on groups and individuals from across the College.

We spoke to two of the winners below.

Correcting the biases of Wikipedia

Three people standing in front of paintings
Professor Dame Julia Higgins, Dr Jess Wade and Professor Ian Walmsley

Dr Jess Wade, Research Associate in the Department of Physics, has continued her outreach work to encourage young girls to take up science  since winning a Julia Higgins Award in 2017. Over the past two years, her work has expanded from supporting women in physics to embrace all fields in STEM and tackle various issues related to diversity.

"On almost every language version of Wikipedia, women account for less than a fifth of the biographies." Dr Jess Wade

Jess has now created over 650 Wikipedia entries for successful women scientists, engineers and medics. She explained her motivation behind this project:

 “Wikipedia is almost twenty years old and has become an incredibly important place for information,” says Jess. “While all who work on the project commit to a neutral point of view, the encyclopaedia is riddled with editors’ own biases. On almost every language version of Wikipedia, women account for less than a fifth of the biographies. For women scientists, the statistics are even worse, making up only 6 per cent of those on the English language version of the site.” In order to correct this trend, as well as creating new Wikipedia pages boosting the profile of women in science, herself, Jess has run numerous training sessions to educate others on how to edit Wikipedia pages, both at the College and in the wider community.

Fighting gender inequality one step at a time

Jess has also been recognised as one of Nature’s 10 most influential scientists in 2018 for her work on raising the profile of underrepresented scientists, among other achievements. Jess says she is most proud to see students she has helped go on to pursue a science degree at university: “One of the first events I led at the beginning of my PhD welcomed 200 teenage girls into the Department of Physics - and some of them are now Imperial students!”

Jess believes that the best way to engage girls in STEM is through improvements to teaching science in schools, as well as support for teachers and parents with young children. She emphasises the need for evidence-based programmes, such as the Improving Gender Balance project ran by the Institute of Physics

As well as making more young people aware of opportunities in science, Jess hopes that research culture will become more welcoming and inclusive for all scientists. “I hope there will be better recognition for the contributions that academics make to science alongside their research,” says Jess.

She would especially like to draw attention to the work of Dr Yasmin Andrew, Undergraduate Student Liaison Officer in the Department of Physics. "Yasmin has transformed the experience of Physics students and staff, arranging student-led help desks, an exciting program of invited lecturers, mental health and resilience training, as well as undergraduate research experiences. She is one of the incredible Imperial staff members who inspire me everyday."

Driving change through data

Three people standing in a room with paintings
Professor Ian Walmsley, Nick Wood and Professor Dame Julia Higgins with Nick's award

Nicholas Wood started working at the College 10 years ago as a Technician and moved through a number of positions before taking up his current post as Programme Manager – Data, for the Faculty of Medicine. He received the Julia Higgins Award for three particular contributions: tackling bullying and harassment, transforming the provision of mentoring for staff, and improving training in equality and diversity.

“I can’t remember a time when equality, diversity and inclusion weren’t important to me. I came to London for university and loved the diverse and inclusive atmosphere, so much so that I stayed”, said Nick.

He soon became passionate about improving diversity in the workplace. He added: “Working with data, it’s difficult not to see some of the imbalances. I was keen to get involved with the People and Culture Committee in the Department of Surgery and Cancer to see where we could use data better for a fairer working environment.” 

Reducing barriers for women academics

"Widening access to opportunities and improving the training of mentors significantly reduces the barriers present to women academics, as well as support staff." Nick Wood

Nick learned valuable insights from his work as a lab manager in the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology (IRDB), where he developed and promoted a welcoming working environment for everyone by supporting his colleagues through access to data.

Notably, Nick helped to establish an online reporting tool to capture evidence of poor staff behaviour and created a database of staff records, which enabled him to run a targeted campaign that saw an 88% increase in training course attendance. When asked about his decision to focus on mentoring, Nick explained: “Informal mentoring has always been a significant driver for career development, so widening access to opportunities and improving the training of mentors significantly reduces the barriers present to female women academics, as well as support staff.” 

Nick is hoping to continue leading on data-driven projects to improve equality and diversity at Imperial, and is currently working with the Learning and Development Centre to expand the mentoring system used in the Faculty of Medicine so that it  covers the whole College.

2018-2019 Julia Higgins Medals and Awards

Medals

  • Dr Jess Wade, Research Associate, Department of Physics
  • Dr Emma Chapman, Research Associate (Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow), Department of Physics

Awards

  • Dr Stefano Sandrone, Teaching Fellow, Department of Medicine
  • Dr Renáta Kosová, Associate Professor of Economics and Dr Marisa Miraldo, Associate Professor in Health Economics, Business School
  • Professor Clare Lloyd, Vice-Dean, Institutional Affairs, Faculty of Medicine; Professor Sian Harding, Professor of Cardiac Pharmacology, National Heart and Lung Institute; and Professor Sara Rankin, Professor of Leukocyte and Stem Cell Biology, National Heart and Lung Institute
  • Mr Nicholas Wood, Programme Manager – Data, Department of Surgery and Cancer

Reporter

Rozi Harsanyi

Rozi Harsanyi
Human Resources Division

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Equality, Strategy-staff-community
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