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

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The world is severely short of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals. Encouraging more girls into these disciplines would increase the size of this talent pool and greatly benefit the economy and, in turn, society. In this talk, I highlight the ways in which we can create equal opportunities for women in STEM careers.

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It’s conference season in the academic world and lots of us are preparing our presentations or already away with our extended academic community. I’m currently in the beautiful city of Montreal at the International Society of Microbial Ecology, the #ISME16 meeting. It’s probably the most significant conference for me, covering virtually every area of my research interests. Also I’m ‘time served’ on ISME, having been elected onto the Executive from 2001 to 2012, including being Vice President, President (twice) and Board member and am now the UK Ambassador. If you don’t know this learned society – it’s big! The meetings are generally over 2000 delegates from 60-70 different countries, so it’s a massive exchange of the latest findings in this important field of Microbiology.

Being at the meeting, enjoying interactions with colleagues old and new over 5 days has me reflecting on past meetings of ISME. Early this week I ran, with two senior scientists, a packed session (500+ delegates at their first ISME meeting) for early career researchers to help them get the most from the conference and support them to get started in networking to enhance their research and opportunities. This very much reminded me of my first ISME meeting, ISME4 in Ljubljana in 1986, so exactly 30 years ago. I was there alone as a post- doc researcher badly in need of my next academic job. I took my first ever poster (I’d no idea how to make a poster so overdid the glue and it stuck on the poster board unaided!) and had to learn how to get the most from the conference by making a lot of mistakes first. For example, I tried to catch a bus from my hotel to the conference centre but inadvertently stood on the wrong side of the road, ended up on a bus that went slowly into the hills and stopped at a terminus a long way from the conference centre. The bus driver and I looked at each other, I couldn’t understand any Serbo-Croat but assumed that the bus would eventually go back into the city, which luckily it did!

In fact I had a job offer before I left Heathrow, bumping into someone who became highly influential in my career, Bill Costerton, when the flight was delayed. (I was working at Calgary University with him two months later.) I recall sitting in the opening ceremony in awe of all that was going on around me, little did I know that one day it would be me on the stage as ISME President, opening the ISME meetings in Cairns and then Seattle in 2008 and 2010. Yesterday, when speaking to the early career researchers I told them of this story of my first ISME meeting and that I was ‘keeping the stage warm for them’ as we need some of them to take over running the Society, to ensure our subject continues to flourish. I always enjoy these sessions with young researchers and work with them, visiting their posters and discussing their research.

On the final day of ISME16 I will present the Bill Costerton prize to the best young scientist’s poster, in memory of this fine scientist. And it reminds me too of how its important that senior scientists give time to support our next generation too.

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

 

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Welcome to my first blog! I’ve been meaning to start a blog for some time and here it is. In my postings I’m planning to cover the types of things I do in my working and personal life on global issues around universities and higher education, the challenges and need for achieving greater diversity in all we do, about the STEM world in particular, musings from some of my travels, some of my experiences as a member of the team that runs a university and occasionally about all things microbiology and my research! So an eclectic mixture of topics which I hope will be of interest.

As a senior female scientist I am frequently asked to speak at events about ‘my story’ so I thought that I would cover a little of this, to give some context. I am from a widening participation background, born into a town of low aspirations and under achievement in the north east of England. The life expectations for the girls, at the time, was to leave school at 15 or 16 and to work to provide some money to supplement the family’s income, before marrying and having children. The girls in my school year had virtually no opportunities to study. For the boys, at the time, the ambition was to get an apprenticeship at one of the large ‘works’ in the area and follow their fathers and brothers into shift work, early marriage and children.

I followed the ‘leave school early’ and worked in several jobs before giving it all up and like others, spent time traveling in Europe and North Africa. This gave me time to think about what I wanted to do. I always liked travel and I was keen to have a job that might take me to different places in the world, so I thought ‘why not try science’ as this might support such choices? I needed to get more qualifications so enrolled in night classes whilst working full time to support myself. I got two A levels in nine months and was delighted when Warwick University offered me a place. Once in higher education I loved it. This enabled me to progress from BSc to PhD, through various post-doctoral Fellowships in the UK and internationally, prior to my first academic post at Exeter University.

The years slipped by and before I knew it I became the first ever (there were two of us promoted on the same day) female Professor appointed to the experimental STEM subjects at Exeter University, the first female Head of Biological Sciences and then Dean of the Postgraduate Faculty and eventually moved into the senior team at Swansea University.

Along the way I’ve played various leadership roles in universities, government, learned societies, nationally and internationally and lots of other external roles besides these. What I have noticed is that at every single career stage the numbers of women that I’ve worked with have got fewer and fewer, until it became a regular occurrence for me to be the only woman in the room. In the Biosciences fields there are lots of women studying for BSc and PhDs but they seemed to disappear and the majority of the senior level posts are held by men. I’ve looked around and not liked what has been happening with girls and women in STEM subjects.

Fast forward to 2016, I so often hear stories of impediments to girls and women’s career and life progression, in STEM subjects and more broadly too. It’s important to stress that this is not a UK phenomenon, I’m currently involved in projects in Australia and Canada too. So I was pleased to be invited to be a TED speaker at the recent TEDx event in Swansea. I decided that, rather than speaking on my research, that I would instead focus around the imagined scenario of girls growing up in 2016 and what their life opportunities might be within STEM careers and also covering what things work to raise the visibility of women and support them to progress. The TED talk is available here –

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

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