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ICR hosts discussion on gender equality for UK research institutes

Suzanne O'Connor in a lab

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, hosted a conference, specifically for research institutes, on how to improve gender equality within the workplace in Chelsea at the end of March.

The ‘Athena SWAN Research Institute Workshop’ brought together researchers and professional services staff working across research institutes in the UK ranging from The Francis Crick Institute to the Met Office, to share learning, discuss challenges and network.

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of the ICR, opened the day, which was organised by Advance HE – the higher education sector body responsible for Athena SWAN.

He spoke to attendees about his personal motivations for taking on the role of co-chair of the ICR's Athena SWAN Steering Group to tackle barriers to career progression for women working in science.

Leading and advocating from the top

Professor Workman emphasised that as part of the ICR's commitment to an open and collaborative culture, the ICR's work on diversity and inclusion has always been of huge importance to him. He said:

“Over the course of my career, I have always been interested in supporting, mentoring and collaborating with other researchers. It became increasingly clear that we – as a sector – were losing women and also minorities and I wanted to do what I could in my position to help address this.

“It was extremely important for me to show that the ICR is serious in our ambitions to address these issues, and to act as a beacon for other organisations too. Direct involvement also helps me understand better the challenges of staff and students and how I can support them.”

Sharing learning

Dr Vanessa McKean, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, shared learning from the ICR's work on our silver award application, and more recent projects including the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index submission.

She spoke on how best to use data and benchmarking to support research institutes to tell their own stories, define their own career paths and equality issues, and to work together better.

Our aim at the ICR is to create a supportive work environment and provide good career support for both women and men, and to remove any unneccessary barries to career progression for all.

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Updated requirements

The day also provided an opportunity to find out more from Advance HE about the new requirements for Athena SWAN awards which have changed since the ICR’s last application for a Silver Athena SWAN award in 2015.

The new requirements include addressing challenges facing professional and corporate services staff in research institutes, tackling discrimination against transgender people, and demonstrating work to understand overlapping connections between gender, race, disability, age and any other factors that may lead to discrimination in the workplace.

Gender equality is good for all

How can organisations make a difference in their workplace? The ‘Collaborating with Men’ research team from Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge encouraged attendees to think about how organisations could help embed and celebrate good practices for colleagues to support each other.

Research has consistently shown that gender equality in the workplace is good for all.

All of us can play a role in supporting our colleagues – and examples of simple, helpful behaviours include encouraging gender balance in panels, supporting points made by female colleagues in meetings and making sure they are attributed back to them, calling out inappropriate behaviours and challenging double standards when and where these arise.

Next steps

At the ICR we are very proud of our record on equality and diversity but we know there is more to do.

The ICR will be reapplying for our institution-level Athena SWAN silver award in 2019. As Professor Jessica Downs, co-chair of the ICR's Athena SWAN Steering Group, said:

“The value of this process rests with the tangible changes that come about. It's so important that the award results in meaningful changes in the work environment, and we can see the ICR's commitment to that through the many initiatives that are trialled, and then improved here.”

For more information about Athena SWAN, please contact Vanessa McKean, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager.


Athena SWAN Vanessa McKean Equality and Diversity
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