Equality in Science overview

Wellcome Sanger Institute, Genome Research Limited
Wellcome Sanger Institute, Genome Research Limited

The Equality in Science programme is a joint initiative of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Connecting Science, EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and other bodies on Campus. Originally established as Sex in Science in 2011, Equality in Science aims to generate discussion and raise awareness about issues traditionally facing women and marginalised groups in science, and to drive policy and practice changes to redress them

Internationally, women are represented in diminishing proportions as career levels progress and significant numbers of women leave science altogether. In line with societal and cultural shifts, the issues that cause this well-recognised ‘leaky pipeline’ now affect not only female scientists but increasingly also men in science. Scientists from marginalised groups such as LGBT+, BME and disabled scientists also do not achieve success at the same rates as their counterparts. In our Equality in Science programme we explore these issues, look to inspire researchers, develop discussion and drive change in current practices and policy.


The programme was developed in 2011 by Professor Ele Zeggini. The Equality in Science working group is comprised of approximately 20 women and men from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Connecting Science, the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and other entities on Campus. It aims to:

  • raise awareness of issues facing women and marginalised groups in science
  • To address and challenge preconceptions
  • inspire people at different stages of their scientific careers to progress to senior levels;
  • foster constructive discussion about all of the issues above
  • inform and drive change in current practices and policy at the institutional level.

These objectives require long-term effort and we have the firm commitment and championship from senior leaders across our organisations to continue with this work into the future.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Connecting Science

At the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Connecting Science, our global reputation for excellence is underpinned by our commitment to developing and maintaining a forward looking organisation where staff and students from all backgrounds can thrive. By striving to promote and maintain a diverse, inclusive and stimulating workplace, we are celebrating and valuing our staff for their differences in thought, background, experience and perspectives.

Since 2011, we have been pursuing a broad strategy to address the issue of gender imbalance and support for women in science through our active Campus-wide ‘Equality in Science’ programme.

In 2013, GRL became an active member of the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN Charter which recognises the work undertaken to address gender equality. Our Athena SWAN Bronze Award was renewed in 2016 and we were delighted to have been awarded Silver in April 2020.

In 2017, our work was expanded to include broader diversity considerations and we are prioritising the implementation of an ambitious Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Programme.

We recognise that scientific excellence cannot be achieved without the support of the entirety of our workforce and in 2018 we signed the Technician Commitment, which is a sector-wide initiative led by the Science Council to ensure greater visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians.

Where are we taking action?

We are focusing on impactful and sustained changes, which when combined, encourage and supports a positive culture of equality, diversity, and inclusion. As part of this, we are committed to a range of long-term, targeted activities which promote gender equality and recruitment, retention and progression of women within the organisation.

Our established Equality in Science programme raises awareness within the organisation of issues facing under-represented and minority groups in science and drives policy and practice changes to redress them. However, we recognise that no initiative will fully succeed without the right culture and working environment.

Our EDI strategy has been developed using data and evidence from our staff surveys, focus groups, and 1-1 interviews and has four principal aims:

  • A diverse, representative workforce at all levels
  • Managers at all levels take ownership of EDI and demonstrate effective inclusive leadership and due regard to EDI
  • An inclusive working environment where staff and students respect and value each other’s diversity
  • Facilities and services delivered in a way that promotes equality, and respect diversity and inclusion

The former Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team has been reorganised into an ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Forum’ to embrace these changes and also lead on a broader organisation-wide EDI programme of work. Membership of the EDI Forum encompasses a broad range of experiences and responsibilities. The group is chaired by Dr Cordelia Langford, Director of Scientific Operations.

Data is key to enable us to be more inclusive – our recently launched “Tell Us About Yourself” campaign, is an initiative to encourage and support staff and students to update their CoreHR data to help us with our evidence-based approach to driving inclusivity.

Workplace Environment

We believe that cultivating a friendly and supportive workplace is key to helping our researchers, students, and staff develop their skills and experience. We have a family-friendly environment that permeates the fabric of our Campus.

For example, we have high chairs in the cafes, priority bus boarding for parents travelling with their children on the Campus buses, baby changing facilities, priority parking for pregnant employees and New and Expectant Mother (NEM) rooms, an on-site workplace nursery and a Campus-wide summer holiday club.

Work-life balance

We are committed to providing a range of progressive policies which support everyone to achieve a positive work-life balance.

We actively promote, encourage and support flexible working practices. Our enhanced Maternity and Shared Parental Leave Policies provide an entitlement to six months’ full pay. There is no qualifying period of employment before an employee is entitled to benefit from this enhanced policy. Our advice and guidance on Shared Parental Leave enables managers and staff to see, first-hand how the policy works in practice.

Paid Leave for Carers was introduced in 2017. This provides our employees with up to 10 additional days paid leave a year to deal with short-term, extraordinary caring situations such as looking after a sick child.

Our Returners’ Grant is a flexible scheme for researchers across Sanger to access when they return from maternity/shared parental/adoption/other extended leave. This could include mobilising existing resource from other areas (e.g. technical, technician, administrative), or applying for funds from a central pot.


For further information contact Dr Saher Ahmed, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: saher.ahmed@sanger.ac.uk