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Two women presenting to other women in a seminar room

'This really is where a critical mass can eventually make change happen', said one of the participants at 'Developing Female Leadership in NDCN', the second Women in Clinical Neurosciences Conference. And change is certainly called for: in the UK only 15 per cent of clinical professors are women (and in NDCN 29 per cent of clinical professors are women). Women are clearly underrepresented across clinical academia.

Women in Clinical Neuroscience (WICN) was formed in 2021 using a £10K grant from the University of Oxford's Equality & Diversity Unit. Professor Michele Hu, who spearheads the initiative, explains: 'We aim to provide an environment to build friendships and peer support networks. We want women to champion women. WICN enables open discussion of barriers to career progression, and signposts support for women.'

Progressing the careers of women in NDCN

Building on a successful inaugural meeting in December 2021, this second meeting, held on 7 December at the Said Business School, focused on progressing the careers of women in NDCN at post-doctoral level and beyond.

The programme was designed to provide inspiration and examples from successful female neuroscientists, as well as to allow plenty of time for women in NDCN to network with each other and interact with guest speakers. Indeed, feedback showed that the networking opportunity was one of the most valuable aspects of the day, with women discovering shared challenges and starting to talk about potential solutions.

Top tips from female leaders

Professor Stephanie Cragg from the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics kicked off the day with her 'Ten Top Tips on Leading a Successful Research Group'. Key nuggets of advice included: put yourself forward for new opportunities, focus on what's important and not just urgent, don't dwell on problems, and motivate your team through co-ownership of the research and its direction. Mary Muers, Research Culture Facilitator in the Medical Sciences Division, attended this session and said that it was 'inspirational to hear top tips from experienced researchers, including how to nurture co-mentorship within a group, and initiatives to support reproducible science'.

Support from People and Organisational development unit

Susy Salinas Rios from the University of Oxford's People and Organisational Development unit provided an excellent overview of the extensive range of support available to people wishing to progress their career in the direction of leadership and management. For example, there is a new hands-on course called 'The Confident Manager', and an Annual Careers Conference for Researchers coming up on 20-23 March 2023.

Susy went on to lead an interactive session on 'Building and Managing Hybrid Teams'. This included the opportunity to practise having 'coaching conversations' using the 'GROW' model: what's your goal, what's the reality, what are your options, and what's the way forward? Another way of helping team members to think through something they want to improve is to ask: What is it you've discovered about yourself in the last three months? What is the key thing that you want to address and improve right now? What might you be assuming that could stop you? If you assumed something more freeing, what would your first step now be? What support would you need from manager to do this? Participants in this part of the day also learnt about building skills in resilience and well-being, including keeping a 'gratitude journal' or thinking of 'Three Good Things' that happen to you each day.

inspiration from external speakers

The afternoon was devoted to three very different external speakers. First up was Helen Khan, who shared the story of a similar network in the UK: Women in Vision. This is a larger initiative than Women in Clinical Neuroscience, as it is national in scope and has been running for a long time, but nevertheless, there were lessons to be learned regarding the potential direction that WICN could take in the future. In particular, Helen noted that Women in Vision has focus lead for their different areas: research, training, diversity, education, leadership. It also has industry sponsorship and is set up formally as a community interest company.

The next two speakers provided a colourful overview of their twisting and turning careers: Emma Mead, who is currently Head of Biology at Alzheimer's Research UK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute, and Caroline Cake, who now works for Oxford Science Enterprises. Lessons including being bold, taking risks, following the problems, and creating environments around you in which people can flourish.

Future change

Associate Professor Annina Schmid, who attended the day, concluded: 'WICN has the potential to change the direction our department takes. After all, we have it in our own hands to make a positive change in our departmental culture. More visibility and a stronger voice will highlight where the main challenges lie and I am confident this will facilitate a change within the department.'