Supporting Equality and Diversity in Science – 2020 Winners

Best Practice Award winners Hannah Hurst (left), Ireena Dutta (middle), Lindsey Crosswell (right). Photo credit: Jeff Dowling.

Supporting Equality and Diversity in Science – 2020 Winners

5 Mar 2020 - 12:05


  • The winners of the Wellcome Genome Campus Best Practice Awards for Supporting Equality and Diversity in Science have been announced
  • The winners share their thoughts on the future of equality and diversity in science
  • EMBL-EBI actively supports equality and diversity in science, through a range of initiatives  

06 March, CambridgeThe award for Best Practice for Supporting Equality and Diversity in Science celebrates the contributions of individual staff members at the Wellcome Genome Campus towards advancing equality, diversity, and inclusion to bring about a positive impact on the working life and career progress of their colleagues.

Equality and diversity are historically identified as points of debate within science and academic careers. It is well known that women in science are underrepresented as career levels progress, and many more women than men will leave science altogether during their careers. It is becoming increasingly obvious that other minority groups do not always have the same opportunities for career progress and so it is important for science organisations to make a stand and work towards improving diversity and inclusion.

EMBL-EBI is committed to creating and sustaining a culture in which diversity and equality are promoted and celebrated. This is achieved through the various initiatives and groups across EMBL-EBI and the wider Wellcome Genome Campus, including the Equality in Science Committee andEMBL-EBI’s Equality in Science working group.

"Science benefits from the diversity of the people working  together to deliver it, so equality and inclusion are things we actively promote,” says Ewan Birney, Director of EMBL-EBI. "Achieving equality in the area of science is a marathon and not a race; changes across the organisation will take time but we're prepared to put in the work because we believe diversity benefits everyone."

International Women's Day, celebrated on 8 March, is a global day highlighting the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Each year, in celebration of International Women’s Day, the Wellcome Genome Campus commends some of its diversity champions during the Best Practice Awards for Supporting Equality and Diversity in Science. This year, the awards received a record number of nominations and of the three winners, two are EMBL-EBI and ELIXIR staff members.

Meet the winners

Lindsey Crosswell, Head of External Relations, EMBL-EBI

Lindsey has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to developing the Equality in Science Programme on the Wellcome Genome Campus over several years and to widely championing equality and diversity. She currently chairs the Equality in Science Committee and, as a result of her efforts, both EMBL-EBI and EMBL Heidelberg have appointed an Equality and Diversity Officer.

Hannah Hurst, Project Manager, ELIXIR Hub

Hannah has taken responsibility for equality and diversity across the ELIXIR Hub. She has worked on producing an Equal Opportunities Plan based on the Equal Opportunities Strategy document for use across ELIXIR’s international Nodes, and successfully piloted the ELIXIR Code of Conduct at several events. This will be rolled out at all ELIXIR Hub events from June 2020.

Equality and diversity insights

To get a better view of equality and diversity across EMBL-EBI and ELIXIR, Lindsey and Hannah, our Best Practice Award winners kindly agreed to share their insights on the matter. They both have a demonstrable passion for diversity and inclusion in science and were happy to discuss the challenges they’ve overcome to advance the cause of equality and diversity at EMBL-EBI and the ELIXIR Hub.

Q: What does it take to make science more diverse and inclusive?

Crosswell: I think what it takes is a gradual raising of awareness so that equality and diversity becomes a red thread that runs through everything we do. When we are thinking of convening panels, recruiting, asking people to represent us, we must be thinking more widely; are these groups diverse and truly representative of society? I do think this is something that has caught fire at EMBL-EBI. I know our directors and leadership think this way and I have seen a huge change towards this way of thinking over the eight years I have worked here.

Hurst: For real change to happen in science it will take work from entry level throughout the educational and career stages of science. There is a lot that organisations, institutes, and companies can do to improve diversity and inclusion. We are lucky to work on a campus which has an Equality in Science Committee who organise inspiring talks and training sessions on the topic. Seeing what people are doing at places such as University College London (UCL) and Wellcome has been inspiring, and within ELIXIR we aim to emanate their work.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face?

Crosswell: We are trying to shift a whole culture – years and years of inequality. This can’t happen overnight; it will be the result of lots of small initiatives sustained and built over time. When you work in an international organisation such as EMBL with an overarching focus on science, equality and diversity are not always seen as a top priority. It is not our core business, but it is part of what we should do as a responsible organisation. Raising this through people’s priority agenda can be a huge challenge, but it is the right thing to do.

Hurst: We have reached a stage where we have prepared an Equal Opportunities Plan within ELIXIR, which maps out everything we want to achieve in the next three years. There is a feeling that we want to do everything right now but that just isn’t achievable. We are having to prioritise, justify, and understand that this isn’t something which will happen quickly. Being more specific, even everyday tasks like achieving a gender balance for event speakers and attendees can be challenging at times; be that 50/50 or in line with internal benchmarking activities and closer to 30/70.

Q: Why did you choose to take such an active stance for equality and diversity?

Crosswell: I firmly believe that people should be judged on their merit, not their gender, race, or ethnicity. I’m not militant but I feel very strongly about these things because I’m part of the first generation that was able to benefit from this shift in attitude. I began my career in the 1980s and since then I’ve worked in some very male-dominated businesses and have seen a huge change in workplace behaviours. I also have two daughters, so it matters to me that we have gender equality in the workplace for this generation.

Hurst: Every person, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other protected characteristics deserves to be treated equally, have the same opportunities, be given the same respect, and feel supported in whatever they do. ELIXIR is naturally a diverse organisation and that diversity is one of our greatest assets so we must foster and encourage it. I am not doing this alone within the ELIXIR Hub, it is a team effort which is very encouraging.

Q: What are the biggest changes in workplace culture you've witnessed throughout your career?

Crosswell: When I think about gender in the workplace, the things that were acceptable behaviour in the early 90s are now considered abhorrent. I’ve seen an enormous societal shift in what is and what isn’t considered appropriate. The whole debate is much wider than this now. We’ve moved away from this just being about gender and are thinking about minority groups who never had a voice and have been largely overlooked. This is something that has radically changed for the better over my working life.

Hurst: Over the last couple of years I’ve seen an increased awareness of diversity and inclusion matters and a desire to address them rather than wait for someone else to. In turn, I see people feeling more comfortable to be open about their personal circumstances and experiences.

Q: What positive changes do you hope to see within science in the next five years?

Crosswell: The challenge we have is translating the work we do into meaningful policy. We’ve carried out a number of pilots for example for flexible working, and keeping in touch days during maternity leave.  These efforts are powerful as they gradually inform policy. I would also like us to explore other protected characteristics and make progress in the area of equality in race, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. These are new areas for us to explore so we’ve got a long way to go but we are making progress.

Hurst: I want to see the ELIXIR Hub Equal Opportunities three-year plan fully implemented and continued within the Hub. I also want to see the ELIXIR Equal Opportunities Strategy and our Code of Conduct adopted by all of the 23 ELIXIR Nodes. More broadly in science, I want to see gender balance in the workplace at all levels of the career ladder, conferences, committee members, panels, and speakers. I want to see everyone being given the same opportunities and I want everyone to feel included, accepted, respected and comfortable to be themselves.

Q: What can individuals do to contribute and change this culture for the better?

Crosswell: Every leader has a responsibility to inform themselves about equality and diversity. We’ve tried to do that here as a leadership team. We have presented data about staff gender composition and aspects such as equality in recruitment. Once people are informed, they want to take action, so I think progress is rooted in better information for people. Scientists love data, so when you evidence something with data and share it with people it speaks volumes and goes a long way to help everyone understand the issues and encourage them to start taking practical steps.

Hurst: As individuals, small things can make a big difference. We can easily show we are understanding and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community by including our pronouns on email signatures or wearing a pronoun sticker at events. If we are invited to an event and notice that there is poor gender diversity across the event programme, raise it with the event organisers. It might be that they haven’t considered it and would welcome this feedback. At the simplest level, just be nice. Everyone is working hard and is likely to be in it for the same reasons. Be respectful of others. Be welcoming to others. It makes life a lot better!


Contact the news team

Oana Stroe
Senior Communications Officer
+44 (0)1223 494 369

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