Monday, 15 May 2017

Women in Science

Elaine Green (one of our academics) writes: Last week I attended the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science awards ceremony at the Royal Society, London and saw the research of 10 up-and-coming academics selected from nearly 300 applicants. The Women in Science programme was founded by L’Oréal and UNESCO 18 years ago to ‘promote and highlight the critical importance of ensuring greater participation of Women in Science’.
The opening speeches highlighted the gender gap in science that still exists today with only 15% of those individuals working in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the UK being Women. Five scientists were awarded fellowships receiving £15,000 of financial support. The money can be spent in a more flexible manner that helps to continue their research, including laboratory consumables, equipment, or even help to balance their research commitment with childcare costs. There is a need for change to create a more diverse community and over-come the unconscious bias still evident today in STEM subjects. Gender stereotypes are made early in life, around the age of 5 to 7 years old, and younger individuals need to have inspirational role models, such as winners of this award, to highlight that success is not just a pipe dream for girls. It was also recognised that being a women in a male dominated environment can be isolating and as such a network has been set up linking more than 2,000 of the award winning women across many Countries.
The event was good, I applaud the steps taken and there is clearly progress on the road to equality for women. Whilst all these actions are necessary, they are not yet sufficient to fully address this issue, and I’m not sure of the perfect solution. Taking one of the positive actions, the financial support for extended childcare is genuinely helpful for working women. But, what more needs to happen for women to have a full and successful scientific career, whilst still prioritising home life, such as picking up the kids from school more often? Are we forcing women to comply with male stereotypical work pattern? Would an alternative be to set a more flexible structure for work and home life, and make that equally available to Men and Women?
I have a feeling the debate will continue.
UK Scientists who won the L’Oréal-UNESCO fellowship 2017;
  • Dr Radha Boya, University of Manchester, Nanoscience

  • Dr Annie Curtis, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Immunology

  • Dr Manju Kurian, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, Neurology

  • Dr Bethan Psaila, University of Oxford, Haematology

  • Dr Priya Subramanian, University of Leeds, Mathematics