An interview with the Science Council's Chief Executive, Helen Gordon

In late 2018, Peridot Partners appointed Helen Gordon as the Science Council’s Chief Executive who started in early 2019. Helen came with a strong track record having led the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and the Royal Society of Medicine.

As Helen has moved past the two-year mark at the Science Council, Peridot’s Head of Membership & Development, James Hunt, recently caught up with her to discuss her journey, the challenges and opportunities, and what is next on the horizon.

Science Council context

The Science Council is the membership organisation for professional bodies and learned societies in science. They champion and uphold standards across their profession through professional registration of scientists and technicians.

A new Chief Executive was needed to ensure its strategy was developed and implemented, to support them to meet the diverse needs of their Members, and who could enable them to continue to be a truly influential voice in the science community.

What was it about the role and organisation that attracted you?

Helen was keen to join a professional body where she could make a substantial impact. The opportunity caught her eye due to its support and work with over 30 science professional bodies and with learned societies that reflect the breadth of science.

“The science workforce is genuinely exciting, and of course, there are some links with healthcare where my career had been focussed on beforehand, both in professional bodies and the NHS. So, an interest in science has always been with me,” said Helen.

It was also a time of change for the Science Council and an opportunity to build the team, support a forward-thinking board and refocus and grow their support of Members and our registrants.

Helen added: “It was also a refreshing change to work with an umbrella body whose members are organisations, compared to the past three organisations I have worked with, whose focus was on individual members.”

Approaching the first six months, 12 months, and… 2020

In the first six months, Helen was focused on getting to know the team, the business intimately, and its Members.

The work they do is intrinsically linked with members and their strategies to attract the science workforce to individual membership with them and registration with the Science Council.

Helen focused on refreshing their value proposition with Members and ensuring that they delivered on the ambitions set out in a clear strategy which helped focus priorities and consideration of new approaches and services.

“Building a solid foundation and team spirit, I have helped the Science Council be able to be bold and a bit experimental in 2020 as the pandemic hit, and focus time on new services to support Members, mainly in the form of support networks and for a to link expertise, shared ideas and effort,” Helen explained.

Ensuring the Science Council is an influential voice in the science community

Their work on registration and licensing has remained strong and this year sees the conclusion of a major project to update and publish all registration standards and associated documentation.

Helen said: “Our engagement of Members has really grown in the past year, through investing in personal relationships and creating support, sharing and join work across a number of disciplines: such as events, policy, marketing and communications, and CEOs/leaders.”

The Science Council explained that they are establishing a clear role in convening and supporting members with a shared agenda of wanting to support, develop and promote the science workforce. Helen believes their voice will grow as a result.

They are mindful that Members do a lot of policy work for their specialty area, and they are currently recruiting a policy officer to bring in capacity and expertise to establish a policy programme that works.

Helen added: “Our natural bias would be to complement our Members’ work by focusing on pan science workforce and quality issues. Watch this space!

“As we grow this agenda, in collaboration with our members, our contribution to national policy and decision making with other stakeholder organisations and government will also grow.”

Helen expressed that they have worked hard to promote the science workforce, especially during Covid-19, where so many scientific specialties have contributed directly and indirectly to the response to the virus.

“The impact of science workforce has been phenomenal and using case studies in our promotion work, to amplify the contribution individuals make, will increase further during 2021,” said Helen.

How to positively engage with competing demands

Helen’s number one tactic for engagement has been to get to know the people they work with, the Member leaders and other key stakeholders being her primary focus.

She said: “I needed to build rapport and understanding with member organisations, hear their stories, ask for feedback on the Science Council and understand their strategies and priorities and challenges which in turn informed the Science Council’s activities and approaches. There is no doubt that time spent in this during year one of my appointment was necessary for success given that our futures our bound together.

“Members need clarity about where the Science Council is going and what it is providing, they need good customer service, value for money, a sense of activity and growth, transparency, effective engagement, and reassurance that we will deliver on what we say we will deliver on.”

The impact of Covid-19 on the Science Council

Helen is proud of what the Science Council achieved in 2020. With a small team, a huge network of members and volunteers, and a supportive board, having real clarity of purpose and good communication helped them adapt to home working successfully early on and look to adapting how they serve Members and registrants effectively during the pandemic pretty quickly.

Helen said: “We continued our work for and with Members and registrants and put-on extra networking opportunities to support our Members, all of which now continue as a core offering. Having frequent ‘all team’ meetings has ensured that all team members are focused on developments and involved in idea generation and decision making.

“We bring our whole selves to work and so getting to know each other to understand how individuals are really doing is vital, for them and for the charity. And now it is likely that there will be more remote and flexible working going forward even when it is safe to return to some office working as we have learnt more about what conditions help certain individuals. It is a rare opportunity to build a team upwards from individual work style preferences to bring out the best in them.”

“We recognise need to have fun and to appreciate each other talents and achievements and I’m grateful for team members who bring initiatives into our team to keep morale high.  It’s also a time where development, both personal and for the team is vital.”

What have you learnt and what is to come?

“I am constantly surprised and delighted by developments in the science sector and knowing that our Members and registrants are creating that story. The generosity and motivation of people in this challenging year has been heart-warming. Not a surprise, but deeply humbling,” explained Helen.

“I’m genuinely enthusiastic and motivated for the years ahead. We are investing in capacity and new approaches to serve our Members and registrants better, and engaging employers in supporting their science workforce. So, keep an eye on our developments over the coming year given our ambition to grow and make more impact for scientists and technical staff.

“Science is at the heart of society, industry, education, research, technology, health and more. We have important work to do to support and recognise the science workforce, and those who support science, at a critical time for humanity.”

If Peridot Partners can help with any future recruitment you may have, or to talk about your own personal search, please contact James Hunt on 07711 405444 or james@peridotpartners.co.uk.