A national project that has established a successful network for LGBTQ+ people working in STEM fields, led by a senior research librarian at the University of Nottingham, has been recognised with a prestigious honour by the Royal Society.
Dr Beth Montague-Hellen, who works in the University’s Libraries’ Research Support Team, supporting the Faculty of Engineering, developed the LGBTQ+ STEM initiative together with Dr Alex Bond, a senior curator at the Natural History Museum.
The LGBTQ+ STEM initiative has been recognised with the Royal Society’s Athena Prize, which is awarded biennially and celebrates teams which have contributed to the advancement of diversity in STEM.
As well as boosting visibility for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people working in STEM areas – science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the initiative has created the first network of LGBTQ+ STEM professionals and has established the annual LGBTQ+ STEMinar conference.
Beth Montague-Hellen said: “To receive a Royal Society award which recognises the importance of this work to professional LGBTQ+ colleagues is incredibly exciting. LGBTQ+ people working in STEM are often told that science is impersonal, which can be code for “please, be quiet, no one cares about your personal life”. But when you feel that you have to put energy into censoring yourself and you can’t talk about a part of who you are because you’re worried about how your colleagues will react, that’s restricting how much of yourself you can put into your work.
“Five years ago, no-one was talking about how LGBTQ+ people add to diversity in STEM fields. Thanks to LGBTQ+STEM and the LGBTQ+ STEMinar, it’s become an important facet of this agenda. The work of LGBTQ+STEM in showcasing LGBTQ+ scientists, engineers, mathematicians and those who work in technology, has created a snowball effect helping researchers in these fields to see that being open about who they are they can help encourage a new generation into STEM fields.”
The LGBTQ+ STEMinar was the first conference of its kind in the UK and has brought together LGBTQ+ people from many different fields and many different places, creating collaborations and friendships and spawning similar conferences and organisations.
The Athena Prize is one of annual 25 medals and award winners that have been announced by the Royal Society, celebrating exceptional researchers and outstanding contributions to science across a wide array of fields.
President of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan, said: “The Royal Society’s medals and awards celebrate those researchers whose ground-breaking work has helped answer fundamental questions and advance our understanding of the world around us. They also champion those who have reinforced science’s place in society, whether through inspiring public engagement, improving our education system, or by making STEM careers more inclusive and rewarding.
“This year has highlighted how integral science is in our daily lives, and tackling the challenges we face, and it gives me great pleasure to congratulate all our winners and thank them for their work.”
I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Beth on this significant and prestigious award. Beth has worked tirelessly, primarily in her own time and created an outstanding support and communication network for LGBTQ+ colleagues. We are extremely proud of Beth’s work, and I’m delighted that the Royal Society has recognised these efforts.