Just short of a year ago, the Royal Society announced the award of 43 University Research Fellowships (URF). The scheme supports outstanding scientists in the UK who are in the early stages of their research career and have the potential to become leaders in their field. Many of us will remember that only two of the appointments were made to women, which acted as an alarm call. Indeed, our President, Sir Paul Nurse, announced that the Royal Society would investigate the situation. In February of this year he reported on that investigation and laid out the changes that Council had agreed on to tackle issues of gender imbalance.

As Chair of the Royal Society’s Diversity Committee, I would like to tell you about the progress the Society has made in making these changes to date. As I outlined in my own blog post over the summer, we know that a diverse and mixed workforce is the most productive way to do science and the Society is committed to creating an environment in which this can happen. There is still some way to go but I hope you will be encouraged by the steps already taken.

Progress report

  • The Royal Society is currently reviewing all promotional material for our grants schemes.
  • Further information about the flexibility of schemes and a statement welcoming applications from under-represented groups have been added to the landing page of the Grant section of our website.
  • An FAQ section has been created to respond to issues and to help to dispel some of the myths which may discourage applications from under-represented groups.
  • Case studies have been included on the website that show the diversity of our current award holders and videos have been commissioned to show the work of Dorothy Hodgkin Fellows (DHF).
  • Printed materials have also been updated to emphasise the flexibility of all of our early career schemes, including the University Research Fellowships (URF), Sir Henry Dale Fellowships (SHDF) and Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships (DHF). They all encourage under-represented groups to apply.
  • An improved communications and outreach plan has been established to promote our grants programmes.
  • The Society makes between 10-15 university visits each year to promote our grant programmes. Our Director of Grant Programmes will attend many of these meetings to speak with heads of departments, pro vice chancellors for research and equality and diversity officers. They will talk specifically about how to encourage a diverse pool of applications and discuss barriers that may exist for under-represented groups.  One of these visits has already taken place and others are planned.
  • Our new printed and online materials are being used to engage and encourage Fellows, research fellows, alumni, university heads of department, research offices and other key stakeholders to identify and support excellent researchers from under-represented groups.
  • We have begun work on an evaluation programme that considers how our grant schemes are perceived.
  • An evaluation of the Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowships (DHF) has just been completed. As part of this the Society surveyed award holders, alumni, department heads and selection panel members.  Participants were invited to comment on the differences between the URF and DHF and whether the Royal Society should make changes to these two programmes.
  • This evaluation has been considered by an Evaluation Panel and the Society’s Diversity Committee, and recommendations for some beneficial changes will be made later this year.
  • Further Society grant schemes will be considered in a similar way.
  • I have produced a four page overview of unconscious bias which will be distributed to all those involved in selection panels and committees.
    • A short animated film based on the overview has also been commissioned.
    • The Society is working with the Wellcome Trust and Research Councils to develop a tender for implicit bias training.
    • The Royal Society will also host an annual Diversity Day which highlights and tackles barriers to progress of currently underrepresented groups.
  • The Society is in the process of producing a data report across all the Society’s activities for a five year period which shows relevant demographic variables in a transparent form.
  • We are currently developing a new grants management system, which will collect all data in a standard format consistent with other parts of the organisation so that we can provide appropriate data for future years.

As Paul Nurse reported in February, the Society’s investigation was not able to identify a particular problem or series of problems in the existing systems that could account for the low success rate for female candidates in the 2014 round of URF award. It was clear however that more needs to be done to encourage under-represented groups to apply. We hope that some of the steps outlined above will help this happen.

The picture in 2015

Today we congratulate 38 new University Research Fellows, eight of which are women. They represent the absolute brightest young stars in science and I look forward to watching how their careers progress.

It’s important to note that applications for the 2015 round of URF awards got underway before the Society’s investigation was complete and the Council’s report published. The table below shows the numbers of male and female candidates at all stages of this year’s URF appointment process:

Table 1: Numbers of male and female candidates at all stages of the 2015 URF appointment process.

 

Total
Application
1st Shortlist
Interview
Awards initially offered
Awards accepted
Male
363
129
57
28
30
Female
107
41
18
10
8
Total
470
170
75
38
38
 
 
Male
77%
76%
76%
74%
79%
Female
23%
24%
24%
26%
21%
 

Our URF scheme tends to be dominated by the physical sciences, where male candidates are more common. A greater number of female candidates tend to apply to the SHDFs, for biomedical sciences. The table below shows the numbers of male and female candidates at all stages of the SHDF appointment process for round one of 2015.

Table 2: Numbers of male and female candidates at all stages of the SHDF appointment process for round one of 2015.

Total
Invited
Full Application
Interview
Awards initially offered
Awards
Male
58
50
16
10
9
Female
44
46*
14
9
9
Total
102
96
30
19
18
 
 
 
 
 
 
Male
57%
52%
53%
53%
50%
Female
43%
48%
47%
47%
50%
 

*The number of female candidates increased from 44 to 46 once all applications had been received. Two female candidates considered under a previous round and given the option to defer their applications to a later date, chose to do so in this round. 

The Royal Society’s Diversity Committee and I will closely scrutinise these numbers (and those for the DHFs and 2nd and 3rd rounds of SHDFs for 2015 when they are announced later this year). The number of women appointed URFs this year is similar to years previous to 2014 but we are not complacent. We know this does not mean things are ‘fixed’.  There are still too few women applying.

I hope you will agree that we now have a Diversity strategy in place that not only encompasses women but also other currently disadvantaged groups. We at the Diversity Committee will be making sure that the Society keeps to its commitments and continues to make the changes that are necessary so that all feel welcome in science.