The gold standard

Posted on 15 October 2018

The Department of Chemistry has been featured by The Royal Society of Chemistry in an article promoting initiatives to support diversity in the workplace.


Helen Coombs

The Athena SWAN gold award, held by the Department for 10 years, recognises our commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine employment in higher education and research.

The article discusses specific initiatives including family-friendly working, a flexible working guarantee, a part-time working assurance, pay gap analysis and unconscious bias awareness, and gives examples of how they have transformed the environment within the Department.

Importantly, the policies developed as part of the Athena SWAN initiative benefit all staff members. As Dr Caroline Dessent, Chair of the Departmental Equality and Diversity Committee, points out in the article: ‘This has been really important in keeping the support of all of the department’s staff over the last decade and has led to inclusivity, which goes far beyond the original remit of Athena SWAN and aims to provide a welcoming environment, which actively supports all members of the department, irrespective of gender, sexuality, disability, ethnicity or background.

In particular, the article highlights the invaluable and tireless work of Dr Helen Coombs, Departmental Manager, who has introduced and implemented many of these initiatives. As Helen says in the article: ‘There is a sense of satisfaction when a new set of guidelines or scheme we have introduced makes a difference to staff and students and when some of the good ideas we have in chemistry are adopted by other departments at York or at other universities.

She goes on to say, ‘I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by some excellent colleagues; it is very much a team effort with everyone playing their part’

The most important thing is that these policies genuinely make a real difference to people, as Helen enthusiastically notes: ‘It is lovely when someone says they have taken advantage of the flexible working scheme to adjust their hours to suit family or health needs or when we have formally changed the working hours to give someone a better work-life balance’. 

The article makes clear that although we have come a very long way over recent years, there remain unsolved challenges, and the Department is determined to continue improving. In particular, there is a wish to ensure greater inclusion and success of those from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as those from black and minority ethnic communities.

You can find the article on the RSC website.