Acknowledged as a leader in medical research, MCRI is proud to have staff who have dedicated time and energy to breaking down barriers and creating more inclusive workplaces. Among them are Dr Sarah Stephenson and  Erin Crellin, whose advocacy has made lasting contributions to the Institute and beyond.

A natural leader, Dr Sarah Stephenson heads up MCRI's Neurogenetics group and, in June 2018, co-founded QueersInScience. Having grown to include chapters in all states, the organisation is dedicated to improving support for LGBTQIA+ people working in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

Last year, Sarah was named an OUTstanding LGBT+ Role Model by the global consultancy group INvolve in recognition of her role in establishing QueersInScience. "It is always lovely to be recognised for the work that we do," she says. "For me, this award reflects the hard work and dedication of our entire team." The organisation's aim is simple, adds the molecular biologist. "We aim to increase support, enable education, end harassment and discrimination, and empower professionals, students and organisations."

QueersInScience also highlights the contributions LGBTQIA+ professionals and students make to an organisation.

With Sarah's guidance as director, and with the support of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the organisation has connected LGBT+ individuals across isolated research areas. She has secured several government grants and, with her team, organised Australia's first LGBT+ researcher symposium.

However, Sarah, who identifies as lesbian, says the award was about much more than recognition.

"It's an opportunity to raise the profile of QueersInScience and hopefully create new conversations and networks to advance LGBTQIA+ inclusion."

Described as a trailblazer, Erin Crellin was nominated for an Aspire Award for her exceptional leadership qualities and pioneering role in disability advocacy.

The nomination saw Erin, who was born with spinal cord damage and has been in a wheelchair full-time since the age of 18, go on to win the Individual Best Achievement in Medical Research award.

With a Master of Biomedical Science under her belt, Erin has started her PhD research with MCRI's Genomics in Society group, supported by an NHMRC postgraduate scholarship, investigating how genomic testing can best be supported to ensure equitable delivery. Her research focuses on children under 10 with an intellectual disability or developmental delay as a case study.

Genome sequencing for this purpose was funded through Medicare for the first time in 2020.

"We want to make sure it doesn't widen the existing health disparities and access to services that already exist,'' Erin says.

A member of MCRI's Accessibility Working Group, Erin says she is looking forward to helping improve accessibility – not just for researchers but for research participants as well.

When asked about what inclusion means to her, Erin said, "To me, inclusion means creating and fostering a welcoming environment for people of all abilities. And by enabling people of all abilities to contribute, we enrich the fabric and output of our workplace. Attitudes can take time to shift. However, I firmly believe that we can all be agents of change. We just need to be willing to see the person, not the disability."

Erin further shares, "I am most fortunate to have benefited from the inclusive workplace culture at MCRI. Flexible work arrangements and adjustments have been put in place, enabling me to complete my Masters research and, more recently, embark upon a PhD. Having supportive and welcoming supervisors and colleagues has been key throughout, illustrative of how influential attitudes are in enabling people with disabilities to not only contribute but thrive."