BEIS grant announcement tops off inclusivity celebration on LGBT+ STEM Day
LGBT+ Physical Sciences Network members were surprised with news of a new inclusivity research grant scheme during an LGBT+ STEM Day workshop.
Around 80 participants came together online and in person at Burlington House on 18 November for the celebration. At what was the network’s first meeting since before the COVID pandemic, attendees shared their experiences, debated community priorities, and discussed the changing inclusion landscape.
Co-organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), Institute of Physics (IOP) and Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the celebration was opened by Professor Tom Welton, past President of the RSC. A number of presentations and contributions from LGBT+ scientists, as well as a workshop discussion session, soon followed during what was a productive workshop.
The event came after the annual Pride in STEM conference, which also took place in Burlington House earlier that day, supported by the RSC and the IOP.
Dr Clara Barker, who is the Daphne Jackson Fellow in the Department of Materials at the Centre for Applied Superconductivity at the University of Oxford, was one of those instrumental in organising the community workshop. A past Chair of the University of Oxford LGBT+ Advisory Group, she said she saw these events as crucial in guiding the network for the coming years.
"The main thing is touching base with the community and finding out what members want and learning more about their priorities,” Dr Barker said.
“We want to make sure the network is still relevant to the community and make sure we are up to date and that any future actions are still relevant to the membership. The event was also intended to be a celebration of what we have achieved in the past few years.”
A key part of the event was looking back at the progress since the publication of the joint report ‘Exploring the workplace for LGBT+ physical scientists’ – which was prepared by the RSC, IOP and RAS – in 2019. The event was also a prime opportunity to discuss matters affecting the LGBT+ STEM community and build on that research. Those in attendance were split into workgroups and asked for their opinions on a range of topics including visibility, training, and policy.
There were also several short talks about the history of the Network, as well as its wins and losses over the years. The RSC joined the Network in November 2017, sponsored and celebrated the first annual LGBT+ STEM Day the following year, and in 2020 launched the RSC LGBT+ toolkit – a set of resources to foster inclusivity within the chemical sciences.
But there was a surprise for attendees as a new grants scheme was unveiled. Funded by the Department of Business, Energy, Innovation and Skills and the RSC, this £635,000 programme will fund research looking at attrition and retention of LGBT+ people within STEM in the UK and the USA. The funding will cover between five to seven projects.
Dr Ale Palermo (right), RSC Head of Global Inclusion, announced this new funding stream at the end of the event. The grant scheme will open in early 2023 and will bring together UK-US government agencies, NGOs, university administrations, researchers, and funders for the first time.
“In both UK and USA, LGBT+ people are badly underrepresented in STEM subjects as stated in several reports, including ours with the IOP and RAS,” she said. “Governments and other organisations in both countries are eager to create evidence-based retention policies and this new BEIS grant presents a unique opportunity to drive change for a more inclusive community. We are very pleased to partner the SIN-USA in this fantastic new scheme.”
RSC Strategic Partnerships Manager Alison Elderidge added: “This partnership demonstrates our cross-sector leadership and will strengthen our links with a number of influential people in this area, both in the UK and US.”
As well as the news of the grants, the event offered opportunities to share best practice and to network once again after years of separation due to the impact of COVID.
And this hybrid workshop allowed members of the LGBT+ community to take part from all over the world, enabling more people than ever before to get involved with the network.
Lauren Crawford (right), Senior Programme Manager for the RSC’s Inclusion and Diversity team, said the event was another chance to showcase the society’s ongoing commitment to improving life in the workplace for all members of the community.
“Seeing so many members of the LGBT+ community coming together, both in person and online, reiterates just how important the issue of inclusivity is within the physical sciences,” she said.
“While there are areas still to improve upon, these workshops are a reminder of what passionate people within the community have already achieved.
“These sorts of discussions also help to shape how we approach the issues that matter to LGBT+ chemists and – thanks to the collaboration with the IOP and RAS – scientists in a whole range of different fields.
“We already have some big plans in store for 2023 and this dialogue with members is so important and insightful.”
Dr Barker (right) said that she has also noticed the solidarity within the physical sciences community. She added that events such as this one, which took place during Trans Awareness Week, are important to continuing to advance the cause of inclusion in science and society generally.
“I talked about the lack of role models and visibility [in the 2019 report] and over the last few years, visibility has improved. That's a really important first step,” she said.
“We're getting that data [about inclusion and diversity] and we're being open about issues [affecting LGBT+ scientists]. That makes it easier to feel part of the societies and they are putting on great events.”
A materials scientist by trade, Dr Barker is also the Dean for Equality and Diversity at Linacre College and in July started the Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship, co-funded by the RSC. Her work over the years has made her a leading voice in promoting LGBT+ issues and inclusion within academia.
And having first teamed up with the RSC years ago, she has noticed that the society has shown a real willingness to change and make science a more inclusive place.
"The RSC was not a society I was a member of beforehand and it was an active reach-out [from the RSC] as they were trying to find people to bring in. I was part of the community consultation a few years ago and there was a definite openness and willingness to listen; it was very genuine,” she said.
"Over the last few years, I have done more things with the RSC because I like the way they are doing things and the model of inclusion. The learned societies have said they really support these events and they have put their money where their mouth is."
She added: “The RSC particularly took part in the report and put on events and changed the way they asked questions and built a toolkit. The RSC has taken that report and done something with it.”
Dr Barker confirmed there will be more cross-science events in the future, adding the feedback from members will drive the focus of those activities.
“We hope that there will be some follow-on from the network and maybe that we can get some more organisers,” she said. “We want to make sure there is fresh blood and fresh ideas and we want to learn what people want us to be doing.”
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