Professor Valerie Gibson has received a Royal Society award for her activities to increase and advance women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
She is among four individuals and two organisations recognised by the inaugural Royal Society Athena Prize, which celebrates those who have contributed most to the advancement of diversity in STEM in their spheres.
Professor Gibson is Head of the High Energy Physics Research Group at the Cavendish Laboratory and the School of Physical Sciences Equality & Diversity Champion at Cambridge. She spearheaded the Cavendish Laboratory’s Athena Swan Gold Award in 2014. The Cavendish was the first – and remains the only – university physics department in the UK to achieve this recognition of its development of employment practices that support and further the careers of women. Professor Gibson said:
A workforce with a balance of gender and minorities is more innovative, productive and successful in its outcomes. So it is in all areas of science. However, in my own discipline of physics, less than 20% of our undergraduates are women, only 16% of our research active academic staff and 8% of our Professors are women, and 94% are of white ethnicity.
My work focuses around removing any barriers that lead to these fractions, to provide equality of opportunity for all, and to show under-represented groups that a career in science is achievable and fulfilling.
When she is not searching for new phenomena at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, or teaching physics at Cambridge, Professor Gibson is promoting women in science and making science exciting, relevant and accessible to a broad audience.
Among her innovations are the introduction of high chairs in the Cavendish Laboratory’s canteen; establishing a Research Staff Committee and events programme; and instigating research to understand and improve undergraduate women’s exam performance.
Professor Gibson said the recognition by the Royal Society would strengthen her voice in Cambridge and beyond – including working with schools to encourage more girls to consider studying science.
It is also a great boost for moral and keeps the enthusiasm for change at the highest level. This recognition will give me further opportunity to help others along the same journey towards the ultimate goal of equality of opportunity for all.
Alongside Professor Gibson, four others received awards: Dr Mateja Jamnik for founding women@CL; Dr June McCombie, as the key instigator and first Chair of the Institute of Physics’ Juno Progamme; Professor Paul Howard Walton for promoting evidence based thinking in equality; and the Photonics & Instrumentation Research Centre at City University of London for its promotion of inclusiveness and addressing cultural barriers.
The London Mathematical Society’s Women in Mathematics Committee received the overall Royal Society Athena Prize for its efforts to improve the gender balance of mathematicians in academia.