John Innes Centre achieves silver in Athena SWAN pilot

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April 1, 2014

The John Innes Centre, an internationally renowned plant and microbial science institute, has become the first research institute to win an Athena SWAN Silver Award.

The Athena SWAN charter recognises and celebrates good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) in higher education.  This award recognises JIC’s commitment to supporting women’s careers in science and the efforts made to create a supportive environment that ultimately benefits everyone.

The JIC submitted an application to the charter as part of a pilot to widen it beyond the university sector and higher education institutions. JIC was one of seven research institutes to take part in the pilot and the only one to be awarded a ‘Silver’ award. JIC becomes one of just five institutional Silver Award holders.

AS_CMYK_Silver-Award

The John Innes Centre was one of seven research institutes to take part in the pilot and the only one to be awarded a ‘Silver’ award

“To have impressed the panel enough not only to be accepted but to achieve a Silver Award reflects the commitment we have made to gender equality,” says JIC director Professor Dale Sanders.

Professor Sanders is himself a single parent and has first-hand experience of the need for family friendly policies.

“We will continue to act on the policies and values we presented in order to sustain and improve on the award,” he says. “JIC culture embraces the principles of flexibility that provide for family-friendly working practices while at the same time demonstrating a commitment to career advancement for all employees”.

The application was overseen by a group of JIC employees across a spectrum of roles, led by Dr Carole Thomas from the JIC. A launch and awards event will be held at the Royal Society on 1 May.

“Our application triggered a comprehensive review of good practice and we identified areas for improvement in the way we treat gender issues that will benefit everyone,” says Dr Thomas.

In conferring this award, the Athena SWAN panel was particularly impressed by the director’s involvement and support for this agenda and the series of family-friendly initiatives, aimed at women but which benefit all staff.  These initiatives include a family support fund that provides additional financial help, when needed, towards caring costs incurred while attending training courses, workshops and conferences.

Another initiative enables scientists on a tenure track position, under compelling personal circumstances (e.g. the birth or a new child or adoption, illness and responsibility for elderly parents) to ‘extend the clock’ by up to a year. The tenure system allows scientists to work towards a permanent post by achieving milestones within a timeframe. JIC’s initiative ensures personal circumstances do not disadvantage individuals. Coupled with extra support for scientists on maternity leave, this should encourage more female scientists to apply for senior research roles.

Dr Laetitia Chartrain started as a PhD student at the institute and during two periods of maternity leave was able to share the leave with her husband allowing her to return to work. She has managed to progress her career and continue to attend conferences while working flexible and reduced hours.

“It means a lot to me to continue a job I enjoy while having the flexibility to spend time with my children,” says Dr Chartrain.

The institute promotes and in some cases partly funds fellowships aimed primarily at women but which benefit all staff. These include the Daphne Jackson Trust Daphne Jackson fellowship, available to those who have had a significant career break, and the Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship, available to ‘outstanding early career scientists’ who require a flexible working pattern.

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