Finding and celebrating your heroes: The Mary Williams award

I am really pleased by the widespread interest in Swansea University’s Mary Williams Equality and Diversity staff award so I thought I would expand on what the award is, why we set it up and the perceived benefits of the award. I encourage others to set up similar schemes to find and recognise their female heroes whilst simultaneously celebrating the achievements and contributions of their staff towards greater gender equity in the workplace.

First of all, we established the Mary Williams Group at Swansea University. This started really as a spin off from a small group of senior women from across the University that I invited to a celebration of Ada Lovelace day in October 2013. We all felt it beneficial to meet up and share experiences and so agreed that we would like this group to be sustained, to provide a supportive networking for senior women across the University. Note, this was not limited to women in the STEM subjects nor to academics. When searching for a name for the Group I recalled being told that Professor Mary Williams was the first woman appointed to an established Chair at Swansea University and similarly the first to hold such a Chair in the UK (in 1921). I know that there are other claims to be the ‘first female Professor at a UK university’ rather than the first to an established Chair – we celebrate her as a pioneer at Swansea University! So the Mary Williams Group was established and provides a networking group for women, with workshops, discussion groups and leadership in equality and diversity.

At Swansea University we are working hard to ensure greater equality and diversity in all that we do, to fully utilise all of our talent to be a successful university. We thought it would be fitting to recognise staff who go ‘above and beyond the day job’ to support increasing inclusivity and the development of others via a prize called the Mary Williams award and to award this annually. There is more about the award here http://www.swansea.ac.uk/personnel/equal-opportunities/marywilliamsaward/

A little more detail about the Mary Williams award – it is open to all staff, males and females, academics and professional services staff to find a worthy recipient each year. We established the terms of reference for the award, inviting staff to nominate colleagues for the award and why the person (or team) is worthy of such an award. A team of judges makes the final decision. It’s so heartening to see the wide range of staff put forward by their colleagues from every area of the University, for the award. The entire process is run by the Human Resources Equality and Diversity team, amongst their other duties. They notify the winner, but importantly they also notify and thank the nominators and everyone who was nominated to thank them for all their work and congratulate them on being nominated.

We commenced this in 2014 and so have had three winners so far. The award and recognition has made a huge difference to the university community and ensures that we celebrate our work on utilising all of our talent. The Vice Chancellor includes the presentation of the annual Mary Williams award to the awardee at the summer graduation ceremony, thus consolidating the Mary Williams award as a central part of university activities. I have spoken of this award and scheme at many external events and am heartened by the warmth towards this.

I encourage others to consider establishing similar awards to celebrate and recognise all of the talent at their universities and work places too, it was very easy to set it up, is low cost yet is a highly acclaimed, celebratory award, good luck! More about Mary Williams.

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science,   Swansea Uni PVC profile, Research Gate

March 2nd, 2017

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