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A decade of diversity: the Institute of Physics’ journey in diversity

By 27.04.16

By Jennifer Dyer, Head of Diversity at the Institute of Physics

The Institute of Physics established our Diversity Programme, Diversity team (comprising 1.6 FTE staff) and Diversity and Inclusion Committee (which reports to our Council) in 2004, after pressure from our Women in Physics Group to “do something” about the gender balance in physics.

Supporting diversity in the wider physics community

The initial focus was very much on diversity within the physics community, concentrating on gender. The Institute’s Education Team developed a set of Girls in Physics resources and the Diversity team ran a site visit scheme to university physics departments, which resulted in Project Juno – our highly successful awards scheme for gender equality in Physics HE.

“The Diversity team’s work has always faced the challenge of being both inward and outward looking – tackling barriers to diversity in our own workplace as well as out among our much larger membership community.”

Despite efforts as early as 2008 to transform our workplace, our greatest initial successes were mostly out among the community.

During 2009 and 2010, the Diversity team focused on expanding the remit of the diversity programme in the physics community, running projects on areas outside of gender diversity, such as ethnicity, socio-economic background and disability. The Institute was at the forefront of the push to form what is now called the STEMM Disability Advisory Committee.

Addressing diversity within the Institute

At the push from our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, we carried out our first Member Diversity Survey in 2011; an anonymous survey of UK & Ireland members, to obtain a snapshot of the diversity of our membership. With the exception of gender, which remains a persistent issue in physics, we had a more diverse membership profile than perhaps we had expected. Given that we don’t have the capacity to store diversity information on our member database, conducting an anonymous survey was the best solution available to us.

Although we conducted an audit in 2008 of our own internal practices, it wasn’t until 2011 that we started making significant progress internally. At this time, we established our Diversity Forum, our internal group, to look at our internal practices and operations, governance and membership issues. Since this time, we have re-invented our Diversity Forum twice and renamed it Equality and Diversity Action Group (EDAG). Its reincarnations reflect its evolving, increasingly appreciated, purpose. It is chaired by our current CEO and is enjoying renewed vigour and an organisation-wide commitment to addressing diversity issues.

Taking diversity in the right direction

Looking to the future… We hope to ensure our EDAG makes a constructive contribution to culture change within the Institute, ensuring that all members of staff understand and respect the value of diversity and inclusion in their working lives. We hope that our member diversity survey, being run again in the next few weeks, shows that we continue to make improvements in the diversity of our membership. We hope to continue to be a champion in the STEM community on diversity issues. All this takes resource, passion, commitment from the top and the willingness for change, both bottom up and top down. We know we’re not there yet, far from embedding diversity, but we are still positive about the changes we know we can make.

Advice after a decade of diversity…

  • It takes time and resource. There is no getting away from that
  • Gathering data, so you know where the issues are, is VITAL. Don’t get hung up on benchmarking. We don’t benchmark but look at the different stages of our pipelines to make sure there are no intrinsic barriers in employment, membership, governance, etc.
  • Commitment from the top is fundamental, but so is the appetite for change. There’s no point rushing into an audit, if there isn’t any willingness to address issues that are found
  • Don’t be afraid to review, re-evaluate, seek constructive feedback, improve. It’s only by identifying why things aren’t working that you can look to change

For all of the Institute of Physics’ diversity information and publications, visit www.iop.org/diversity.

If you would like any information about how the Science Council can help with your diversity programme, contact Brian Wagenbach.

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