Teddington’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has today launched a new Diversity and Inclusion campaign called ‘Stronger Together, Everyone Matters’ to challenge the stereotypes that influence people’s decisions to work in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector.
Stereotypes around STEM fields, who can work and excel in them and what a scientist or engineer looks like have long been associated with reduced STEM engagement amongst minority groups.
The NPL says: “We have been on a journey of organisational change, and we continue to expand our knowledge while taking action to fulfil the goals set out in our Diversity and Inclusion strategy. But we recognise that there is more to do and more to learn. Within our own organisation there are hidden stories and experiences that are not often shared or heard.
“Through our Stronger Together, Everyone Matters initiative we will be showcasing not only the range of careers available in an organisation like ours, but also the diversity of people that do them. Each with unique experiences and perspectives, helping us to deliver our world-leading science and engineering.
“We will be featuring real stories from colleagues across a wide range of backgrounds and careers, each sharing different experiences and advice in their own words. As our colleagues share their journeys, we hope that they will inspire others to join organisations like NPL and showcase that there is a place for everyone in STEM because diverse perspectives make us better.”
Dr Peter Thompson, CEO, NPL, said: “I’m delighted to launch NPL’s Stronger Together, Everyone Matters Diversity and Inclusion campaign. Creating an environment where our people feel safe to share their unique perspectives is important to us.
“Over the coming months, you will be able to follow our campaign as it grows and we hope that the conversations that have started within our own organisation, will continue into others.”
Jodene Young, Chief People Officer, NPL, said: “This is an incredible opportunity for our people to become an inspiration very early in people’s careers and in their lives. I want us to reach children in their formative stages when they are making key decisions about their future. This is an opportunity to show them people who look like them, for them to be able to relate to someone working in our sector.”
Here are extracts from some of their stories:
In her own words, Hannah Cheales shares her story.
“I have quite a convoluted educational history. I studied geology as an undergraduate masters (an integrated masters) at Southampton and then went to UCL for a postgraduate masters in biodiversity evolution and conservation. Unfortunately, both times I left university, there were oil and gas economic crises. That meant that any of the jobs I wanted to do were taken by people that couldn’t find jobs in oil and gas, so I was struggling.
My twin sister is a physicist; she had a job here at NPL and was really enjoying it. There was a job going up in her area within microwave and RF measurement and I applied. I thought, it doesn’t matter what medium the waves are in. The fundamental physics is the same, and so I joined in 2018 as an assistant research scientist.
I got promoted in April 2020 to Research Scientist and worked the whole way through lockdown. I spent that time largely on my own, locked away in a shielded lab and it made me have a rethink of my prospects. I also became disabled during that time, and I had quite a lot of medical stuff going on. It was quite a pivotal time with me wanting to maybe change my path.
I had another friend that worked in the emissions area. He really enjoyed the role and he also did geology as well. When a job came up I applied for it. I’ve been here now for just over a year and I’m really enjoying it. I now do a mixture of field work and research-based work.
It’s been a bit of a weird and wonderful path, but I’m enjoying where I am at the moment.
There were a couple of times I thought my career might go in a different direction. When I did my postgrad masters, I really wanted to do a PhD and go into academia. I wanted to be a lecturer. I applied to a lot of PhD’s and got really, really close each time, but I was getting emails that were like break up letters from PhD supervisors – “it’s not you, it’s me”!
I couldn’t deal with that anymore. It was really cut-throat. As much as I had passion for science, I couldn’t deal with the level of drama sometimes. I just wasn’t cut out for it, even though I desperately wanted to do it. That’s when I went into more lab-based work and I found I really enjoyed it.
Being a woman in STEM can be really difficult. Typically, in the Biological Sciences, it’s overwhelmingly female, yet still we’re completely underrepresented in terms of the funding paths or appreciation.
Within geology, it’s quite difficult getting into the field. As a female, particularly if you’re going to more remote areas, there’s so much more that you have to think about.
I’m also disabled, which I found quite difficult because there’s a fluctuating disability and an invisible disability that a lot of people don’t understand that well.
I’m dyslexic, so while writing my dissertations, I had supervisors say, “have you ever thought about having someone read your work?” I didn’t realise how much that affected my progress as a scientist.
Having moved from geology, which is very male-orientated, I didn’t receive half as much as sexism as I did when I moved into the biological sector.
In one place I worked, all the toilets were male. The only female toilet I could use was the disabled one, and I had to ask for a key or a code each time.
They treat you so differently to how they would treat my male colleagues. When we would stay in hotels, if I was with a male colleague, the receptionists would assume we’re a couple, even if they were considerably older than me.
My advice to others who might have similar experiences would be to not let yourself hold yourself back. There were lots of times where I believed that certain people were saying, or thinking, that I was incapable. It’s looking at what you can do yourself, but also not beating yourself up if you need to say no.
There have been times where I’ve had to put my health first or had to take a step back, and that doesn’t make me less of a scientist to have to do that. You need to look after yourself, have a healthy work life balance. I worked ridiculous hours and got no recognition for it and it made my disability so much worse, for no one’s benefit.
You don’t have to enjoy every part of your job, but enjoying the main aspects of your job is really, really important.”
Mid-career story, anonymous
“The experience I want to talk about started when I had a baby. My child was premature and consequently had a lot of medical and neurodevelopmental needs. I decided that I needed to take a career break to support my child with hospital stays and medical appointments.
During this time, I gained a lot of experience and interest in neurodiversity and accessibility and wanted to ensure my work reflected people’s needs. I was working part time until I felt ready to go back to a 9 to 5. After my career break, I found it quite competitive to get into the type of work I wanted. I had to revert to my original type of work while building experience and my portfolio.
My career break was a barrier for me as I work in a competitive industry and sometimes struggled to get interviews for the roles I wanted. This really knocked my confidence and imposter syndrome set in. You start to think that you’re not as good as you could be. But then you get that role you’ve been after and fall into it smoothly. You realise that it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was. You realise that some of the barriers we face are internalised.
For example, I worried that I wouldn’t find work as I need to have flexible working to continue supporting a child with medical needs. If you have an understanding with your employer, where adjustments can be made and there is room for flexibility, you can manage working with caring responsibilities.
I find flexible working at NPL fairly easy, and I’ve never had an issue – for example if I need to attend appointments, my manager is understanding. Sometimes I worry that people in the team don’t know my personal situation and will misunderstand or judge my working patterns.
Different teams across the business work differently in terms of hybrid working – with the flexibility needed I usually work from home and come to the office every couple of weeks and on days where we’re required on site. Recently there has been an ask for me to be on site more often. It was very sudden. I started to question my performance or if there had been complaints about my work. There hadn’t been any but having an open conversation is the best way to maintain work life balance.
My main advice in a professional capacity would be to make sure you’re informed. Read the policies, educate yourself. Be honest about your situation. Good communication is key.”
In his own words, Andy Morris tells his story.
“I started off back in 1979 as a 16 year-old school leaver going into an apprenticeship with, what at the time was called, Post Office, which later became British Telecom (BT).
I was working in their test department and that meant, as a young person, I was not only going to college to learn about electronics and telecommunications, but I was also getting hands on experience in laboratories. The work included a lot of electronics testing of components and systems as well as quality assurance work, where I got to visit manufacturer sites to inspect what they were making. That apprenticeship was so good because it taught me so many things, even things that weren’t directly relevant to the job.
Then I progressed through the ranks in that role to leading some groups within the bases in Birmingham and London until BT became privatised and things changed quite a lot. Over the years I had several jobs at various laboratories across the country until I joined NPL in 2017. I started working in business development and moved to work in NPL’s Huddersfield site as the laboratory manager.
Throughout my career there have been a couple of challenges. We used to have a school’s career service, which was terrible back in the day. I remember my careers advisor saying to me, what do you want to do? I said, “I want be a scientist”. They said “No, that’s not for you. You should go into banking.” Anyway, I obviously ignored that…
I think what makes a difference is being prepared to have a go at anything, putting yourself forward and also just doing your best at what you can. One of the strengths I think I’ve always had is getting to know people so you understand your business without having to know everything in depth yourself.
During recent years I’ve faced several health-related challenges. For the last 5 years I’ve been battling cancer. Last year I was told “we can’t cure you anymore”. I could’ve given up, but I initially stayed.
The company has been able to allow me to go down to three days a week. I’m just about to go down to two days and I’ll probably retire in 2024. I don’t really want to retire, but for me, the right choice was always what’s good for me and the family.
Over the last couple of years, I have suffered from depression following the loss of both my parents and anything could have happened then, but I got support from NPL and I managed to carry on with that.
The main thing is to do something you love. Of course, money and lifestyle come into it, but would you choose something that you’re going to want to do rather than you have to do?
Be open and honest about your feelings about things. Share your thoughts. Interact with as many people as you can. Think positively of everybody.”
To learn more go to: https://www.npl.co.uk/stronger-together-everyone-matters