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Laura Watkin

Diversity and Inclusion Partner

3 minute read 

In her own words, Laura Watkins, tells her own story.

I don’t have a traditional scientific background, but I have spent my whole career working to support science. I studied environmental science before doing a PhD in environmental and social science. Prior to my move to NPL, I worked for about 9 years at EPSRC, the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences. I held a wide range of roles, I was a portfolio manager, a university liaison officer before becoming the Head of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and accidentally found a role that would change my whole career trajectory. 

After a subsequent move, that took me in a different direction, I missed the D&I work so I decided to make a change, which led to me becoming D&I Partner at NPL. It was a role I never thought I would get, as its based in HR and I had no background or experience in an HR context. This jump opened up a whole new aspect of my career, one that focusses on workforce diversity and inclusion rather than sector wide initiatives and brought me much closer to the people i wanted to help. 

In this role I am responsible for developing, implementing, and monitoring NPL’s diversity and inclusion strategy, daily this can involve work on one of our strategic projects, awareness raising, analysing data, or responding to feedback from across the business.  I work collaboratively across the business, helping other Teams to embed good practice in their activities and providing advice, and work with our amazing staff-led networks to support both local action and organisational change. Of all the roles I have had in my career, this is my favourite. 

Most of the barriers I have faced throughout my career have come from myself and my mental health. When I first started working in D&I, I had almost no experience and honestly didn’t think I would be any good at it. At the time I had had my eye on another role and was disappointed to be allocated into this one. It was also my first leadership role, it was such a jump that i wasn't ready for, the imposter syndrome I felt was very real and it made what I know is generalised anxiety disorder a lot worse. At that time, I felt I would never be able to do the things that the job required and the unseen mental and physical toll it took on me was hard. Before I was diagnosed, I struggled for a long time before getting help, it's my biggest regret that I did that to myself. Everything just felt so difficult at that time, but finding the right person to talk to allowed me to, not only stay in the role, but to grow and continue in my career. 

There was a period right after my promotion, when I, for the first time, became aware of my age and looking younger than a stereotypical leader. There were instances where people deferred to an older colleague that were awkward to correct and didn’t help the imposter syndrome in the early days. Two that stick with me to this day are, being asked to pour coffees and take notes in a strategy meeting where I was a critical decision maker; and on another occasion being told I was “just like my wife, always nagging and interrupting”. I also remember the immense relief and feeling of support when on both occasions, others in the room immediately called out the inappropriateness so I didn’t have to.  

Unless you know me very well, my anxiety is largely unseen, my ability to mask is a learned behaviour from when things were bad, which I find it hard to stop but I am much more comfortable talking about it now. 

To anyone with similar experiences, I would recommend trusting in yourself and your ability to learn and adapt. The constant anxiety spiral, the “what ifs”, feeling overwhelmed and fear of getting it wrong never really leave you but over time you develop coping strategies, these will be individual to you and will evolve with you as your career changes.  

For mental health specifically, I cannot advocate more strongly for using the resources that are around you whether in your organisation or from a charity. Everyone tells us to, and we resist it or tough it out unnecessarily. Also don’t try one method or one person, it took me a while to find the right support for me. 

If you suffer with your mental health, it can be so easy to focus on things that you think you can’t do and not to pay attention to the skills that you develop because of your personal circumstances. I had always perceived my mental health as a weakness, but there have been instances where it has been an asset, and it has helped my career progress in unexpected ways. 

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