Women in physics in the United Kingdom: Successes, challenges and wider diversity

Jordan, Sally; Bakewell, Sarah; Sadler, Wendy; Thiemann, Heidi; Wardlow, Julie and Welsch, Carsten (2023). Women in physics in the United Kingdom: Successes, challenges and wider diversity. In: AIP Conference Proceedings, American Institute of Physics Publishing, New York, 3040(1), article no. 050041.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0175698


It is sixteen years since the Athena SWAN Scheme was introduced in the UK, and fifteen years since the birth of the Institute of Physics’ Project Juno. A review of Athena SWAN [1] and the early stages of a major review of Project Juno point towards the significant successes and growing influence of both schemes. In University physics departments, there has been a particularly pleasing increase in the percentage of Juno awards held at “Champion” level, increasing from 22% in 2014 to 44% in 2021, whilst “Principle 6”, focusing on bullying and harassment, is now fully embedded.
There have been some increases in participation in the numbers of girls and women studying physics, but the representation of women amongst physics undergraduate students remains low, increasing from 21% in 2012/13 to 24% in 2017/18. Innovative schemes which are seeking to improve participation at an earlier age include the Institute of Physics Limit Less Campaign, the Science and Technology Funding Council (STFC)’s Wonder Scheme, and a number of initiatives which showcase a range of people rather than rather than just high-flying individuals, so as to to improve the chances of students identifying with a role model.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) acknowledge that the underrepresentation of women in the engineering and physical sciences remains one of their largest challenges, and both EPSCRC and STFC place considerable store on supporting the careers of female researchers. There is concern that the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic has not fallen unequally on women. However, the pandemic has also showcased the benefits of allowing flexible careers and recognising a diversity of career paths.
There is growing recognition of the importance and potential benefits of considering equality, diversity and inclusion across gender, ethnicity, disability, LGBT+ status and socio-economic background and other factors, and the intersections between these factors.

Plain Language Summary

As reported in 2021, progress was being made in improving the environment for women in physics in the United Kingdom, although
the proportion of women in the subject remained stubbornly low. Several initiatives had been launched to help encourage girls to enter the field and to retain women. The sector was starting to target broader aspects of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

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