Royal Holloway Wisdom

Wisdom was set up in 2016 in the School of Mathematics and Information Security at Royal Holloway to try to address the lack of diversity in these fields.

Our main aim is to promote diversity within our department, by creating a group of like minded people who all support this mission. We also aim to encourage more women to study in these fields, by fostering a community that is supportive of women. We highlight areas where women feel underrepresented or improvements could be made, and then ensure that school management is fully engaged in resolving these issues.

We have meetings every two months, to which the whole department is invited. In these meetings we organise our current projects, and there is a discussion on a topic related to diversity. Previous topics include the “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” memo. We also have an organising committee meeting every other month.

In May 2017 Wisdom co-hosted an event with HutZero titled ‘Driving Innovation through Diversity’. With around 40 attendees, the event was focused on discussing how organisations can help promote diversity in the Cyber Security sector. We deliberately designed the event to be interactive, with a ‘workshop’ style as opposed to a traditional speaker/audience setup. This allowed for a good flow of conversation, to enable attendees to share their thoughts, ideas, and network.

Wisdom have also organised the London Universities Women in Stem Day in June 2017, with around 50 attendees. This event provided a forum for discussion between the universities in London about promoting diversity in STEM. The day ended with a discussion panel and networking. Feedback from the event included: “Great speakers, passionate about both their work and committed to gender equality. It was nice to see a different range of seniority (PhD student to head of department) as well as from different backgrounds (academia vs industry).”

We organised a Winter Networking Event, where speakers focused on revealing their own experiences about diversity. Attendees found this helpful, and this fostered good discussion in the networking afterwards. We held an anniversary brunch on the first birthday of Wisdom, to celebrate our achievements. These achievements have been recognised by the university who awarded the group an ‘Enhancing Fairness Award’. On the more social side of Wisdom, we hold informal lunches with the Master’s students from Royal Holloway on a termly basis. Our other social events include films nights, where we watch a diversity-themed film. These events allow us to think about issues in a more informal setting, where some of our members feel more comfortable to express themselves.

Wisdom recently ran the 11 session Voice & Influence programme for its members. This programme, developed by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford, offers both theoretical and practical discussions and solutions to issues women face in the work place. This allowed for weekly discussions and also advice applicable to individuals. It has also helped us, as a group, look at what our university might do better. An example of this would be a better defined maternity policy.

One of our main initiatives, was to give two undergraduate students based in South Africa the chance to visit Royal Holloway to complete short projects. These projects were under the supervision of Professor Kenny Paterson who, along with the HOPE foundation, and an EPSRC grant, funded the visit. Although we encountered difficulties with the visas of both students, we were still able to host one of the students for a shorter period of time. This allowed her to gain some exposure to the world of research.

When founding the group we encountered obstacles including convincing management that diversity is everybody’s problem, and of the necessity of Wisdom. We also needed to convince the department that Wisdom is a group for all, and source funding. We were fortunate last year to receive an EPSRC grant, and we hope our annual Wisdom survey will help us reach out to the whole department.
We are proud at how much our network has expanded in our first year, both internally and externally via social media and our regularly updated blog. Our meetings are well attended, by both women and men, with up to 30 regular members. We hope that these meeting are helping to raise the issue of diversity across the entire department, with both staff and students attending.

Overall, we are overwhelmed with the progress Wisdom has made in its first year. we are determined to double down in our efforts, and make our second year even better.