The London Mathematical Society (LMS) has won the inaugural Royal Society Athena Prize, which celebrates individuals and organisations that have contributed most to the advancement of diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) within their communities. The prize will be presented to the LMS at a ceremony at the Royal Society’s annual diversity conference on 31st October 2016.
The LMS Women in Mathematics Committee, set up in 1999 to support the advancement of mathematics and improve the gender balance within the mathematics community, 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.
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 only 3% of professors of mathematics were women. The percentage of female mathematics professors has doubled since the committee was set up, and now stands at around 7%.
The LMS Women in Mathematics Committee has developed several key initiatives to address the diversity issues within the mathematics community. 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, four 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 holds Women in Mathematics Days to raise the profile of female mathematicians. The events have grown in popularity across the years, with two events being held in 2016, in Cambridge and Edinburgh, with around 80 delegates attending each event. The events bring together enthusiastic and capable women mathematicians to inspire other women in the field.
Professor Simon Tavaré FRS, LMS President, commented; ‘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’.
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