2020 vision: supporting the people behind our science

At the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Connecting Science and the Wellcome Genome Campus, the advances we make are changing the way we think about biology, health, evolution and life on Earth.

Behind all of those advances, are people. Scientists, technicians, students and staff who undertake our pioneering research, run and support our world-leading facilities and inspire people across society to engage with science.

The Sanger Institute’s role as a world leader in genome research is underpinned by our commitment to continuously develop our organisation, so that staff and students from all backgrounds can thrive.

Below is an overview of our ongoing and upcoming work within the Sanger Institute and across the Wellcome Genome Campus. Over the year we’ll explore each of these in a series of articles featuring some of the people who are making it happen.

By Alison Cranage, Science Writer at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

Life on Campus. Image credit: Wellcome Sanger Institute, Genome Research Limited

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Programme

We know that lack of diversity is a systemic problem in science and research, but there are many things we can do to help. Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) programme works to create and nurture a diverse workforce at all levels.

We aim to foster an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive and diversity is celebrated. Our EDI team are leading projects across the Sanger Institute and the Wellcome Genome Campus, including:

  • As part of the Equality in Science programme we organise a wide range of regular events, including talks by inspirational speakers on topics such as LGBTQ allies and diversity in the workplace, support networks, career days, and workshops, and an annual prize for best practice for supporting equality and diversity in science, with the aim of engaging all staff and students.
  • At Sanger, we produce a gender pay gap report every year. By 2022 we are aiming for equal pay (within a 5 per cent margin), at all nine grades across the workforce, which will move us to the forefront of addressing this issue. This is just one of the many ways we are committed to advancing the careers of women in science. We are also a member of the Athena SWAN Charter, currently we hold a bronze award, and we have recently applied for silver.
  • We are joining the Stonewall Diversity Programme in 2020 to ensure we offer inclusive, equal and inspiring environments for LGBTQ+ people, using the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index to benchmark best practice.
  • We are working with AdvanceHE to embed the principles of the Race Equality Charter, including supporting staff to attend events and tracking the ethnicity pay gap.
  • We are exploring support for neurodiversity in the workplace.

“Our scientific excellence comes from our people. Our diverse, interdisciplinary community encompasses a broad range of global perspectives, expertise and experiences. We value all of our members and the skills they bring, and believe that great science cannot be done without tapping into this diverse pool of talent. We are committed to creating a working environment where difference is valued and welcomed, and everyone can reach their full potential.”

Saher Ahmed, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

Our culture

At Sanger, we have invested a significant amount of time reflecting on our culture and considering how best to evolve and improve our work environment.

Organisational culture encompasses values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a workplace. The organisational culture influences the way people interact, the context within which knowledge is created and the way that knowledge is shared. Organisational culture represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of organisational members.  Everyone in the workplace contributes to the culture we have.

As part of this, we are developing clear standards of behaviour and a code of conduct, so that we are clear on what we seek from everyone working here. This is something that many organisations do. It will allow us to develop transparent principles which will feed into recruitment and inductions of new employees, as well as staff reviews and leadership development. We will be offering specific training, encompassing these principles, to all staff. The aim is to help everyone working here explore how we can support one another to be even better – for better learning, better collaboration and making the campus an even better place to push those scientific boundaries.

Developing our people

The priority for the Sanger Institute Learning & Development team over the next year is to equip our workforce with the knowledge and skills needed to further strengthen an inclusive, diverse and professional working environment.  A suite of mandatory training will be launched this year which will mean all of our staff will be working to the same high standards.  With over 300 courses running each year, from leadership development to project management, there is ample opportunity for our staff to grow, develop and reach their full potential.

Faculty staff

The way faculty are appointed and assessed at the Sanger Institute has been reviewed over the last year. Currently 55 per cent of our PhD students and post-doctoral fellows are women, but this decreases to less than 24 per cent at the faculty level. The aim of the review, and our continued work, is to achieve gender parity at faculty level.

Following the review, we have implemented clearer assessment structures and expectations for faculty staff. We also recognise that a key way to increase the participation of women in scientific research careers is to enable them to return following extended leave[1]. We have added a new ‘returners grant’, to support staff with their return to work and research after a career break.

“Creating a balanced faculty will be a challenge that will not be met overnight, as the lower representation of women in science today is a regrettable fact. However, the process of discussing potential improvements and making the many small changes to how the Institute operates will positively impact on delivering an environment where all scientists, including women, are able to progress.”

Janet Thornton – Director Emeritus of EMBL-EBI

 “Your flexibility with my application really helped me. I think women need this level of encouragement/flexibility more as they get easily put off by the thoughts of the competition or their perceived lack of the required skills.”

Feedback from a female applicant to a faculty position.

Supporting parents

The returners grant adds to existing support for Sanger staff to return to work after a period of leave, including: extending fixed-term contracts, a carers’ grant, paid carers leave, an on-site nursery, a summer childcare club, leadership courses and generous parental leave policies.

Crucially, we actively promote, encourage and support flexible working for all staff.

“The terms and conditions of my external grant did not include cover for maternity leave. Sanger covered maternity pay and extended my grant both times I went on maternity leave. This has been extremely important for my career development.” 

Female Career Development Fellow.

We also offer the Janet Thornton Fellowship, designed for post-doctoral researchers who have had a career break of 12 months or more.

Supporting our staff community

Our employee partnership programme enables staff to have a voice in the running of the organisation, and provides a network of people who can advise or support employees with work-related issues or concerns.

Our award-winning ‘Wellness@Work’ programme promotes a culture of positive health and wellbeing that embraces physical and mental health. There is an onsite gym, tennis courts, sports hall, fitness classes, a community garden and a vibrant calendar of social events.

Good research practice

Our guidelines on good research practice reflect our commitment to a research culture founded on honesty, integrity and respect. In line with our vision, we aim to create an open environment of creative exchange of ideas and views. The Sanger Institute’s current guidelines will be updated in 2020, and include four themes: research ethics, integrity and reporting; respect, ethical behaviour and professional standards; training, mentoring and leadership; research visibility and maximising scientific impact.

Assessing our research output

We openly share our research outputs in many different ways and we are committed to using best practice principles in assessing our impact, recognising the full value of all scientific contributions.

Our current policies and practice for evaluating research are based on scientific merit and not on the journals in which science is published. The principles we use align with Wellcome’s new policy on Open Access launching in 2021, and reflect current good practice as laid out in the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), to which we are a signatory. We will continue monitoring and looking for new ways to ensure good practice principles in research assessment.

Technician commitment

We recognise that scientific excellence cannot be achieved without the contribution of the entirety of our workforce. Our highly skilled and expert technical staff are essential to delivering our research.

We employ over 485 technicians at the Sanger Institute with technical expertise spanning a wide range of disciplines, who make a fundamental contribution towards our goals.

In 2018 we signed the Technician Commitment, which is a sector-wide initiative led by the Science Council to ensure greater visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians.

“I started as a technician and now, as a director, I feel privileged to work with, champion, support and inspire all the amazing technicians here. The incredible science we do every day happens as a result of everyone’s passion for their work. I am also delighted to chair the Athena SWAN working group. Together we are committed to advancing gender equality in terms of representation, progression and success for all.”

Dr Cordelia Langford, Director of Scientific Operations at the Sanger Institute.

International Staff

Team members relocating to the UK from overseas represent over a third of our total workforce. Over 70 countries are represented at the Sanger Institute and wherever a journey might begin, tailored support is available at every stage to meet the needs of our staff and their families. Comprehensive immigration advice combined with guidance on global mobility issues – from accommodation and healthcare through to money and localisation – form a core portfolio of support accessible to all staff and visiting researchers joining the Institute.

For short-term visits, we have long supported internships and placements providing opportunities for talented individuals across the globe to conduct their research and develop a valuable skillset; such as the recipients of the Sanger Prize Award. Over the last 18 months our successful application and inclusion in the UK Research and Innovation visa programme has enabled us to further champion international collaborative projects through sponsorship of an additional 17 unique placements.

Collaboration and the sharing of knowledge is at the heart of innovation and our research. Given the significant milestones scheduled over the next 12 months our focus will remain being vocal and active participants in any opportunity that allows us to shape a future immigration system that works for our staff, science and research.

The year ahead

Charlie Weatherhogg, Director of HR at the Sanger Institute reflects on our culture.

“We want our Institute to be a place where everyone can reach their full potential. We are continually reflecting on our employment proposition, to ensure that our training, benefits, policies and environment are engaging and exciting.  It’s not just about what science we do here, but it’s also very much about how we do it.

“We have big ambitions at the Sanger Institute, to lead science and academia with our culture and professional standards. We have spent the last year or so working hard to develop our strategic plan, and 2020 will focus on developing and integrating this. We will be commencing a top down focus on developing our people, starting at non-executive and executive Board levels, to ensure that everybody has the tools to lead in their role. Our people process will integrate and embed the core elements of our culture into all that we do.”


[1] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmsctech/701/70102.htm