President, The Physiological Society
I am one of the generation of scientists who have experienced significant advances in the representation of women scientists on decision-making bodies. As an undergraduate student I was taught by very few female scientists. As a Council member of The Physiological Society in the 1990s I was often the only female member on committees and one of the few women to chair committees. Science benefits from diversity and inclusivity. Not only should we encourage this in our physiology community, and the scientific community at large, because it’s the right thing to do morally, but also because it will further our research. There should be no barriers to participation nor to prevent anyone from having a fulfilling career in science. Scientific research is at its best when we have a diverse range of views around the table, drawing on the broadest range of experience and knowledge.
The articles in this issue present reason after reason to support diversity and inclusivity: allowing individuals to fulfil their ambitions, and science to progress. As a home for physiology and physiologists, we must raise the profile of much-needed role models, encouraging and facilitating participation in physiology, regardless of background or circumstance, and leading by example. I was very proud to become President of The Physiological Society but, at the same time, shocked that I was the first woman to hold this role. All of us must reflect on why it took more than 140 years for this to happen. Through the measures The Society is putting in place to improve diversity and inclusion, I am confident many more will follow.
The Society took an important step in promoting diversity and inclusivity in 2014 when it signed the Science Council’s Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, and later sat on the steering group that developed the Diversity and Inclusion Progression Framework for scientific bodies. This framework provided us with a benchmark for measuring the impact of our diversity and inclusion work, and we now have a strategy that will guide our future work.
Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” approach, nor are there simple “tick boxes” for working towards diversity; every organisation has its individual challenges that must be addressed. However, while gender equality does remain a significant challenge we must move to encompass all areas of inclusion and diversity. Our work will continue, and must evolve as we learn more about what our Members and the physiology community need, and about what we can do to reach meaningful levels of diversity and inclusion in terms of The Society and its activities. We are prepared for a bumpy journey and we hope that you will stick with us; we must continue to advocate for and build on support, by both sharing our progress but also welcoming challenge and criticism.
Recognising one’s own ignorance and unconscious bias is a good first step to making positive change, and we have worked with other organisations to learn more about what we should and could be doing. The Society is connected with and supports many other organisations that are also working in this area; for example the All Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity, LGBTQSTEMDay and Stonewall.
Whilst looking to our Members and other organisations for support, we are also continuing to challenge ourselves. We have made changes to ensure that diversity is high on the agenda at Council, on committees and with the staff; importantly Diversity Champions are appointed at every level. We have undertaken a Governance Review that has specifically looked at the diversity of our Council and our committees. We have introduced minimal and aspirational targets for gender representation at scientific meetings. We also have funding available for those that have caring needs or responsibilities that may prevent them from attending our meetings. While we recognise the importance of acknowledging the progress we have made, we are also not afraid to say that we must do more, both individually and as a community. We appreciate there is a long way to go to ensure that we provide greater inclusivity. The Society is a home for physiologists, full stop, and we are ready to work to make sure everyone feels welcome. We welcome your feedback and views on how we can accomplish this.