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London Mathematical Society committee awarded Royal Society Athena Prize for increasing gender diversity in mathematics

12 October 2016

An organisation that has led the way in increasing the number of women in mathematics has won the inaugural Royal Society Athena Prize, which celebrates individuals and organisations who have contributed most to the advancement of diversity in STEM within their communities. The prize will be awarded in a ceremony at the Royal Society’s annual diversity conference on 31st October.

The London Mathematics Society’s Women in Mathematics Committee has been recognised for introducing a broad range of initiatives in the field of mathematics resulting in a change of culture that has happened nationwide in mathematics.

Mathematics has a particularly extreme drop in gender balance across the various academic stages. Although close to 40% of mathematics undergraduates are female, this drops rapidly at PhD and postdoctoral level. In 1998 just 3% of professors of mathematics were women. In 1999 the London Mathematical Society set up The Women in Mathematics Committee to support the advancement of mathematics and improve the balance. The percentage of female mathematics professors has doubled since the committee was set up, and now stands at around 7%.

  • In 2009 the LMS introduced a Good Practice Scheme which has helped departments across the UK engage with the challenges of improving diversity. Of the scheme’s registered supporter departments, 4 have now been awarded silver Athena SWAN status and 34 have Athena SWAN bronze status. 
  • In 2013 the LMS published a new report, Advancing Women in Mathematics: Good Practice in UK University Departments. The report, which was launched at the House of Commons raised the profile of gender imbalance in mathematics with policy makers. 
  • The committee also hold Women in Mathematics Days to raise the profile of female mathematicians. The events have grown in popularity across the years and bring together a brilliant group of enthusiastic and capable women mathematicians to inspire other women in the field.  

Quote from Prof Simon Tavaré FRS - President of the London Mathematical Society. 

“The London Mathematical Society is delighted to have been awarded the Royal Society’s first Athena Prize.  The award acknowledges the huge amount of energy and commitment to the cause of diversity in mathematics given by many volunteers since the founding of the Women in Mathematics Committee in 1999.  The progress made in encouraging more women to pursue the subject and to see its possibilities has been the result of real collaboration and teamwork, and the Athena Prize is a wonderful recognition of this.

“Clearly there is some way still to go in closing the gender gap in mathematics.  The LMS Women in Mathematics Committee is working towards broadening its work and hopes also to increase the amount of work it undertakes with younger university students and with school students, to address the problems at the earliest stages of the mathematics people pipeline.”

Five runners up will also receive awards at the ceremony:

  • Professor Valerie Gibson for her impact on the culture at the Cavendish Lab in Cambridge and at CERN in becoming more accepting of life beyond work and in the introduction of a child policy
  • Dr Mateja Jamnik for founding women@CL an initiative targeted at computer science which has started to change the culture in computing departments nationwide
  • Dr June McCombie, MBE, FInstP, FRSC, FRAS for being the key instigator and first Chair of the Institute of Physics’ Juno Programme
  • The Photonics & Instrumentation Research Centre, City University of London, for acting as a role model for inclusiveness by promoting good practice and addressing cultural barriers both nationally and internationally
  • Professor Paul Howard Walton for making an impact through promoting evidence based thinking in equality and as a prominent spokesperson for equality in academia

The Royal Society is committed to promoting and increasing diversity in UK STEM. A diverse and inclusive scientific workforce draws from the widest range of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences thereby maximising innovation and creativity in science for the benefit of humanity.

The Royal Society Athena Prize, to be awarded biennially, joins the Society’s prestigious set of medals and awards.