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Equality and diversity in Biological Sciences

An exceptional Legacy and future challenges

The current focus of the Department's equality and diversity work is gender equality following the Athena SWAN Charter principles. The Department was awarded an Athena SWAN Silver Award in 2018 in recognition of its commitment to gender equality in higher education.

The Department has a long history of supporting female biologists. The Department was formed in 2009 as part of extensive restructuring, by the merging of the School of Crystallography and the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. An early pioneer of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences was Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, who was head of the then Department of Botany from 1909. She was an active researcher in the field of mycology and worked with Elizabeth Garrett Andersen to form the London University Women’s Suffrage Society. The School of Crystallography was founded as the Biomolecular Research Laboratory in 1948, led by J.D. Bernal, who recruited one of Britain’s first female structural biologists, Rosalind Franklin, in recognition of her crystallographic skills to investigate the structure of viruses.

In our department, female professors currently outnumber male professors, as they have done for over a decade. Two former members of the department left to take up leading positions in national organisations: Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow as BBSRC CEO, now President of the Royal Society of Biology and Chair of the PHE Advisory Board; and Professor Dame Janet Thornton FRS, as Director of Europe's Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), Hinxton, now Director Emeritus. Two current members - Professor Helen Saibil FRS and Professor Bonnie Wallace FRSC – are directors of national research facilities. Thus, women in the department at all career levels have multiple, highly successful and influential role models and receive the clear message that gender should not impede their scientific careers. Our challenge is to broadcast and build on this legacy to allow future female leaders to flourish here.

Athena SWAN department Self-Assessment Team

Department survey

  • The Department has surveyed its staff and students each year from 2014 to 2019 to find out about awareness and experience of our policies and culture, and the feedback is used to inform and develop programmes for change. (Survey results are held on the Department intranet which requires a Birkbeck login.)

Gender equality champions

Parents and carers group

  • New parents and others with caring responsibilitites can join the Parents and Carers group (PACS) who meet regularly and informally. or Maya Topf (currently on leave of absence) for more information.
  • The College has made room 456A available as a private, secure space for breastfeeding. The key is available from main reception.

College and External resources

Athena Swan Department activities

News and events 2015-2020