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Working in partnership to develop the Physics Inclusion Award

25 April 2024

By Professor Nicola Wilkin, Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham and Chair of the Physics Inclusion Award Steering Group, and Sarah Bakewell, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Institute of Physics. 

We all need physics. Not just to explain our universe, from the very tiny to the unimaginably large, and not just to power the latest high tech invention - though these things matter enormously.  

We also need physics because it gives us the tools and ideas to build a better world, from green technologies that tackle climate change to medical diagnostics that can save lives.

And if we need physics, it follows that we need physicists. A growing, thriving, diverse physics community that can innovate and challenge, work in academia, industry and schools, and each play their part in building our future.

As representatives of the university physics community and the Institute of Physics, we hear all the time from colleagues and students how concerned they are about attracting new people into physics and ensuring that everyone in physics is welcomed and supported.  

There are still severe shortages in physics of many parts of society – groups who just aren’t coming into, or staying in, or getting the support they need in physics. Only a quarter of physics academic staff are women, for example, and less than one per cent are Black.  

We also hear the impact this underrepresentation has on those who are in physics. From building truly inclusive workplaces to increasing visible representation, we should be making sure everyone has the same opportunities and support to progress their career in physics.

If we don’t, talented people could miss out on the kind of rewarding career and welcoming work environment we all deserve, and our society could miss out on the ideas and talent we need in physics.

That’s why the IOP and the physics community have worked together to design the new Physics Inclusion Award, which offers tools, support and guidance to help universities attract and retain the diverse ideas and talent physics depends upon.  

Working in partnership

Partnership and co-creation have been our watchwords. As the leader of the Physics Inclusion Award steering group and the IOP’s Head of EDI, we have been proud to work closely with a dedicated, highly experienced steering group of university physicists to shape this award. The group comes from a range of backgrounds, nations and experience, and from physics departments large and small, to ensure diverse voices were heard.  

The physics community was engaged and surveyed at various points, and the IOP commissioned independent research to explore the barriers and challenges the new award needed to address. Wider Heads of Physics departments were kept informed throughout and their views and experience fed into the Award.  

Learning from experience

We have drawn particularly on the success and learnings of Project Juno, the IOP’s groundbreaking gender inclusion award. We heard what made Juno work so well and where it could be evolved, and we heard why it was so important that our work on gender inclusion must expand to support those from other underrepresented groups. As part of that, we’re working with Advance HE to keep all the elements of the link between Athena SWAN that Juno departments have found so helpful in the past.  

Last autumn, we began a pilot of the award, where 11 universities of all sizes and geographical locations tested the criteria and platform. It was vitally important that Important that the Award would work for all, and we are grateful for the pilot universities’ hard work and feedback which has helped us truly tailor this to individual needs.

Celebrating excellence  

We’re delighted that the Award is now ready to share with the wider physics community and we can’t wait to see its impact. The excellent work so many departments are doing to become more open and welcoming to all physicists, now and from the next generation, has been inspiring to see. This Award now gives departments the chance to recognise this success and progress even further – as thriving and diverse homes for everything that makes physics great.

Find out more and get involved.