Supporting women in science

Sex in Science Award 2015
Laura Huckins of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, John Overington of EMBL-EBI, Sanger Institute Director Mike Stratton and EMBL-EBI Director Janet Thornton. [Photo: Mary Todd Bergman]

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The Wellcome Genome Campus is marking International Women’s Day 2015 by giving its first Best Practice Award for Supporting Women in Science. The recipients are John Overington of EMBL-EBI and Laura Huckins of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The award has been introduced as part of the Sex in Science programme on the Wellcome Genome Campus, which tackles issues traditionally facing women in science, and drives policy and practice changes to redress them. Huckins received her award for inclusiveness and dedication to championing STEM careers, and John Overington of EMBL-EBI received his for supporting parents by encouraging a healthy work–life balance.

Everyone on campus, scientific and non-scientific alike, were invited to nominate a colleague who had made a positive difference to women’s careers.

Huckins, a PhD student at the Sanger Institute, was recognised by a colleague because of “her commitment to the Sex in Science program and Athena SWAN at Sanger, as well as to the Women’s Campaign at the University of Cambridge,” and because “she seeks the involvement of the PhD students in these actions, increasing awareness of the issues in the coming generation of scientists (men and women), and encouraging us to reflect on what we can do to make a difference for ourselves and others at a pivotal point in our careers where many women choose to leave STEM fields.”

The Sex in Science programme keeps the conversation about gender balance going, making sure we remain committed to levelling the playing field in science.

“The Sex in Science programme keeps the conversation about gender balance going, making sure we remain committed to levelling the playing field in science,” says Laura. “I’m proud to have been recognised as a proponent of this incredibly important issue.”

EMBL-EBI team leader John Overington was nominated because, where appropriate and possible, he “allows and encourages flexible working situations for all his staff, such as working from home or making up the hours at a later stage for instances where childcare falls through”. His openness in communication about children and provision of flexibility means “his staff feel confident to carry out their duties in instances where there are issues with childcare”.

Our working practices have to be flexible enough to allow men and women to advance their careers while keeping family their top priority.

“Our working practices have to be flexible enough to allow men and women to advance their careers while keeping family their top priority,” says Overington. “The key is to get job roles in the team right for flexible working from the outset. I’m deeply honoured to have been recognised, even though I feel we could all be doing much more. I’m happy the Sex in Science programme is working to create the right culture to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed both scientifically and personally.”

The awards were presented to Overington and Huckins by Professor Dame Janet Thornton, Director of EMBL-EBI, and Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Laura Huckins and Mike Stratton

Laura Huckins receives her Best Practice: Supporting Women in Science Award from Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

John Overington and Janet Thornton

Dr John Overington receives his Best Practice: Supporting Women in Science Award from Professor Dame Janet Thornton, Director of EMBL-EBI.

“In line with the theme of International Women’s Day this year, which asks us to ‘Make it Happen’, we wanted to celebrate those who are taking action to encourage women’s advancement in science,” says Stratton. “Laura and John are perfect examples of the contribution each one of us can make each working day to tackling gender inequality.”

“The leadership of people like Laura and John is helping to transform the way we work on the Wellcome Genome Campus,” says Thornton. “This award recognises that it is the individuals in our lives who make the big differences, that without mentorship and flexibility some of the greatest minds in science might never have flourished. Actions like Laura’s advocacy of the Sex in Science programme and John’s support of colleagues balancing work and childcare are inspiring, but I was also pleased to see so many people nominating their colleagues for this award.”

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