Imperial College London

Empowering women: winners of Julia Higgins Awards and Medals 2020


Young women pose for a group shot

The Women in STEM@IC Group are one of the winners in this year's Julia Higgins Awards and Medals

Imperial staff have received this year’s Julia Higgins Medal and Awards for supporting the success of women in science.

The Julia Higgins Medal and Awards are awarded annually to recognise significant contributions to the support of academic women at Imperial. They 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

Professor Stephen Curry, Assistant Provost for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) said:   
“Promoting gender equality remains a priority for the College. We must continue to work together to create an environment that removes barriers and supports women academics at Imperial.  

“The colleagues recognised in this year’s Julia Higgins Medals and Awards for their dedication to gender equality are an inspiration to us all. In each case their hard work has resulted in positive changes for women at Imperial. We still have a lot of work to do, but their leadership and example are keeping us on the right track." 

We spoke to two of the winners below. 

Professor Anna Randi: “Women’s rights are human rights”  

"Some may think that the days of fighting for women’s equality are behind us, but I can firmly say they are not.”    Professor Anna Randi Head of Section for Vascular Science, National Heart & Lung Institute

This winners of this year’s Individual Award are Professors Jane Mitchell and Anna Randi, of the National Heart and Lung Insititute (NHLI). Professor Edwin Chilvers, Professor of Medicine and Head of the National Heart & Lung Institute, nominated them, saying:   

“Their impact and influence in supporting and mentoring female scientists within the department has been profound and extended far beyond just being outstanding individual scientists. In the flourishing Vascular Biology community at Imperial their profile as highly successful role models has been essential in allowing us to recruit and retain many world-leading clinical and non-clinical scientists.”   

Reflecting on the win, Professor Anna Randi said: “I am honoured to receive this award – it’s great that Imperial recognises the contribution of women in science and academia. Some may think that the days of fighting for women’s equality are behind us, but I can firmly say they are not.”   

Professor Randi says she has been an active feminist since her time growing up in Milan. “I was a feminist from birth and part of a lively feminist movement in Italy. I was fortunate to have some wonderful role models around me, first of all my mother, an economist and business leader who combined unstoppable energy and sense of purpose with a great sense of humour.

“Women have come so far, but even in 2020 this question will still come up: ‘How can a woman combine her career with having a family?’ Despite the major achievements of the twentieth century, women still spend disproportionately more time on unpaid care work in the family than men; this has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.”   

Achieving pay parity

Professors Randi and Mitchell were also noted for their efforts to argue for and help achieve pay parity in the NHLI – female academics are now receiving on average a two per cent higher salary than their male colleagues. “Equal pay”, says Prof Randi, “is a testament of the changing culture in the Department and at Imperial." 

Professor Randi added that apart from pay, “many other, perhaps less visible inequalities are still present in academia. Disparities in the number of female and male scientists are still major issues. The goal of gender equality has to be achieved by men and women working together. We should remember that women’s rights are human rights.” 

Helena Dodd: “Women still face a lot of disadvantages” 

Professor Paul Luckham nominated the WOMENinSTEM@IC group for their work to promote diversity and inclusion among women at all levels, from undergraduate students to academic staff. The WOMENinSTEM@IC group is affiliated with the Women's Engineering Society

"Diversity makes science better and it can only be a good thing if we make room for different voices and opinions.”  Helena Dodd Research Postgraduate, Department of Chemistry

In his nomination, Professor Luckham wrote that the talks run by the group “have provided a specific benefit to women at Imperial with respect to learning more about the career paths available to them and to benefit from the advice and experience of women who have already taken a path that they may be interested in. Their launch event, which placed an emphasis on intersectionality, was particularly successful in this area. Most importantly, membership reaches across departments and faculties, ensuring an inclusive community."

Woman smiles at camera Helen Dodd, Research Postgraduate in the Department of Chemistry, leads the WOMENinSTEM@IC group. She said: “Women are still facing a lot of disadvantages in academia and continue to face barriers at different career stages. The WOMENinSTEM@IC group gives women a voice and a space to share different experiences than can support and inspire one another."

In March, the group celebrated International Women’s Day by hosting their ‘Electrifying Women’ event in partnership with Syracuse University and the Department of Materials, which included a panel discussion that empowered women and provided a platform for transparent discussions on gender equality. 

young women give presentation
Helena presents at the 'Electrifying Women' event held in March this year

“Winning this award has given us motivation to continue the work being done by the group,” adds Helena. “Chiara Heide, the founder of WOMENinSTEM@IC, launched this group in 2018 so we’re still very new, but we are looking to include everyone in this group – men as well! Diversity makes science better and it can only be a good thing if we make room for different voices and opinions.” 

Helena has recently been appointed as the youngest ever head judge of the Big Bang Fair and is volunteering to support young girls in school. “If anyone wants to join our group, all you have to do is sign up to the mailing list. We send monthly newsletters sharing updates on what we've been up to, and also links to events and news articles we think our members might find interesting.”


Martha Salhotra

Martha Salhotra
Communications Division

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