John Innes Centre leads the way in gender equality for scientists

The John Innes Centre, an internationally renowned plant and microbial science institute, is leading the way in a national drive to retain women in scientific careers.

The institute has introduced a raft of family-friendly initiatives over the last nine months as part of an internal programme to create a more supportive working environment to help address the under representation of women at senior levels in science.

The initiatives were being introduced as the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee carried out an inquiry into women in scientific careers.

Director Professor Dale Sanders said he was pleased that many of the recommendations arising from the inquiry were already being addressed within the John Innes Centre.

“The John Innes Centre culture embraces the principles of flexibility that provide for family-friendly working practices while at the same time demonstrating a commitment to career advancement for all employees,” he said. “I welcome the inquiry’s report and the suggestions that it makes.”

The family friendly initiatives at the John Innes Centre were developed by a range of diverse staff and led by Head of Directorate Dr Carole Thomas. Although aimed at women, they benefit all staff and include a family support fund that provides additional financial help, when needed, towards caring costs incurred while attending training courses, workshops and conferences.

Another initiative enables scientists on a tenure track position with caring responsibilities to ‘extend the clock’ by up to a year. Many senior posts allow scientists to work towards a permanent position by achieving milestones within a timeframe. This initiative ensures they are not disadvantaged by personal circumstances. Coupled with extra support for scientists on maternity leave, this should encourage more female scientists to apply for senior research roles.

Dr Laetitia Chartrain started as a PhD student at the institute and during two periods of maternity leave was able to share the leave with her husband allowing her to return to work. She has managed to progress her career and continue to attend conferences while working flexible and reduced hours.

“It means a lot to me to continue a job I enjoy while having the flexibility to spend time with my children,” said Dr Chartrain.

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