The silly season of summer being over, it seems some women are becoming a little more visible. Outside of London, the British Science Festival in Newcastle had equal numbers of female/male science speakers, one of the most charismatic being Maggie Aderin Pocock.
Chi Onwurah, The MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, a former engineer, wrote for the Guardian applauding that the festival of science had managed to get 50% male and female speakers, though the organizer of the festival said it had been difficult. At a glance, their web site isn’t immediately female friendly. If you’re wanting to encourage women/girls into science (and STEM subjects) wouldn’t some images be helpful?
Britain is sadly behind other nations in the number of scientist, engineers, mathematicians and technicians, and something is being done in Scotland to change this. In a recent interview with ChrisTrainers, Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell said: “There are some horrible statistics surrounding the women who do Science Technology and Engineering, Mathematics degrees in Scotland. Of those women, 72% leave the field compared to only 48% of men. At the same time the ICT, Energy and Green industries are all saying, “Look, we’re heading up for an enormous skill shortage in the very near future. So the Country can’t afford that wastage; to lose a large chunk of its talent. Somehow they need to keep those women.”
Here’s how the Royal Society, one of the most revered British institution, aims to get a better mix.
So often scientific conferences have an overwhelmingly white male slate of speakers, not even a single woman scheduled. Does this reflects the composition of the researchers in the field? A lack of diversity provides little to provide girls with aspirational role models. Suggestions for a better balance of speakers.
First make a pass at a list of plenaries, invited talks, etc. and then step back and consider the names that have been put forward. And then try again. In no time, equally excellent speakers who just happen not to be white males, are produced. Everyone is astonished why some of these ‘obvious’ names did not emerge in the first pass.Before the Royal Society agrees to host meetings and conferences, the Hooke Committee – scrutinizes the names of potential speakers.. If the speaker list looks inappropriate – however topical and exciting the potential topic is – the committee will send the names back and ask for more appropriately diverse group to ensure the meeting’s excellence. The organizers had fallen into the trap of coming up with the familiar names who white males.
This is an ongoing process, into which the current BIS-funded project (aimed at increasing diversity in the scientific workforce) will feed.
This kind of unconscious ‘marking down’ of women is an effect that has been well-documented more broadly. A study looking into this was recently published in the context of CV’s and job applications. Such unconscious devaluation of women’s achievements has a name in the psychology literature – unconscious or implicit bias.
This summary is from Dame Professor Athene Donald, who writes a regular blog.
The thought occurs that these principles could be applied to BBC news, programmes, companies, and other institutions!
Surely it’s not just the Royal Society and Science, but we need more women visible across society, in positions of power, whether in Parliament, the Royal Institution(s), overwhelmingly male in image, and front of house, Judiciary and last but not least, on boards, because business and profit is what makes people pay attention. Not enough talented qualified women? Don’t believe it .
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