From the lab to the committee: Equality and Diversity in science

Jelena Urosevic (Serbia, 1977) studied Molecular Biology and Physiology at the University of Belgrade in Serbia. After completing an MSc in Biology there, in 2003 she moved to Spain to do her PhD at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (acronym CNIO in Spanish), where she focused on the primary tumour. In 2010, she joined IRB Barcelona as a postdoc in the Growth Control and Cancer Metastasis lab.

At the Institute she not only does research on what she is most passionate about, namely the process of metastasis, but also serves as the postdoc representative on the Equality and Diversity Committee. Indeed, as a member of this body, Jelena was involved in the organisation of the seminar “Mitigating bias: promoting diversity and sustainable excellence in research”, which was held on 7 March.


How did you get on the Equality and Diversity Committee?

I saw that there was a call for new members from the IRB Barcelona community. So I decided to join because I think it is important to do things to improve equality in the community and because I want to contribute to the promotion of women in science. I am very proud to be on this committee as we have achieved significant results in a short period of time.

How do you relate your career with your role as a member of the Equality and Diversity Committee?

My biggest motivation to join the Equality and Diversity Committee was because I come from a culture where science is done by women. At college, most of my teachers were women, as were the group leaders at the institute in Serbia where I used to work. When I came to Spain, I realised that things were different and that women were under-represented here.

Can you mention some of the actions the Committee is implementing?

The Equality and Diversity Committee is focusing on five lines of action: recruitment, management, development, work-life balance and communication. Regarding development, for example, last year we organised a Negotiation Skills workshop aimed at PhD students and junior postdocs and another one for senior postdocs, research associates and research assistants to provide them with insights into the key factors that underpin negotiation across a variety of contexts. And this year we have organised “Mitigating bias: promoting diversity and sustainable excellence in research”, a joint seminar with IBEC.

Tell us more about the Mitigating bias: promoting diversity and sustainable excellence in research” seminar

This seminar explored and explained the concept, causes and consequences of implicit or unconscious bias and how it affects careers, workplace culture, and work-family reconciliation in research organisations. The Equality and Diversity Committees of IBEC and IRB Barcelona considered Dr. Claartje Vinkenburg, an independent consultant and associate professor of the VU University Amsterdam, to be an excellent speaker for the seminar because of her expertise on the impact of gender and ethnic diversity in professional and academic careers and on the promotion of diversity and inclusion.

What other actions are being taken?

We are also working to improve the work-life balance of the IRB community because it is important that people feel comfortable in their workplace. For example, we have organised more yoga classes in response to demand. We have also achieved discounts for IRB employees in two nurseries nearby. And we are also planning to do a seminar in October addressing work-life balance issues.

In your opinion, what do you think it can be done to give more visibility to women in science?

In recent decades there has been an increase in the visibility of women in science but there is still a lot to be done. We need more role models, i.e. women in leading positions at institutes and universities, so that young scientists can be inspired by them. Also, there should be more mentoring for young women who are already doing their PhDs or postdocs and more encouragement and support to help them pursue a scientific career. Initiatives like BIST’s grant “To the mothers of science” grant and UNESCO and L’Oréal’s “Liga masculina de cientificos for Women in Science”, in which IRB Barcelona is involved, are also very welcome.