Science, Gender and the Drive for Equality

On Women’s Equality Day, we look at Diamond’s work on the Athena SWAN Programme of Activities


The Athena SWAN conference at Diamond, September 2015 


Women’s Equality Day marks the anniversary of the moment that women were officially granted the right to vote in the US: August 26th 1920.
We’ve come a long way over the last century. Women virtually everywhere now have the right to have their voices heard in elections around the world, but there’s still some way to go. This is particularly true when it comes to career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
According to data from Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), less than 15% of people currently working in STEM careers are women. What’s more, schoolgirls are significantly more likely to rate themselves less competent in maths and science subjects, even when their abilities surpass those of their male peers.
The story behind such figures is complex – it involves social, educational and practical issues that need to be addressed on a national scale. So what can individual science organisations do to try and redress the imbalance?
At Diamond, we’re commited to attracting the best talent to our facility, regardless of background. But putting this vision into practice requires a considerable amount of self-scrutiny and hard work.


That’s why we decided to sign up to the Athena SWAN Charter. Amy Bryan, Diamond’s Athena SWAN Coordinator, explains: “Athena SWAN is part of the Equality Challenge Unit’s suite of charters. As a member organisation, Diamond is committed to removing barriers that contribute to gender underrepresentation, and is taking a targeted approach to gender issues.

“It recognises the importance of its Athena SWAN Bronze Award application as a base-level analysis, and sees the implementation of the Action Plan resulting from this process as a key catalyst for change.”

Athena SWAN was founded over 10 years ago to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in STEM. Since 2005, over 150 organisations have signed up to the charter, and Diamond launched its bid to join in 2015.
Amy says: “We’re looking to address the ‘leaky pipeline’ that sees women leaving STEM roles by fostering a supportive environment for all of our staff. This involves listening to people and learning from their experiences, taking a comprehensive look at where we currently stand on gender and initiating positive change within the organisation.”
Diamond’s Head of HR, Andrew Aitken, adds: “Just over a year in, it’s heartening to see how far we’ve come. We’re committed to all elements of the Equality Act and Diamond’s action plan on diversity encompasses implementing equality training, establishing an employee wellbeing group as well as the wider review of corporate culture and values. We have a number of flexible working practices in place, but we’re always looking to improve and develop these based on good practice and legislative compliance to ensure we continue to support our employees and work towards our aspiration of becoming an Employer of Choice. Creating best-in-sector practice through initiatives such as Athena SWAN is one of the ways we can act as a positive example when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion.”
When it comes to the sciences, progress is dependent on collaboration. If the contributions of gifted individuals are welcomed, regardless of who they are, then science stands to benefit.
Maura Launchbury, Project Manager of the Athena SWAN project, concludes: “Days like this remind us all that we’ve come a long way, and that there’s still a long way to go. It’s great for us to have a chance to join that wider conversation and show that we’re on track to do something about it. We’re making great progress and on a day like this we should shout about it from the rooftops!”