Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 37

Submission from the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET)


About the UKRC

  The UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) works to significantly improve the participation and position of women in science, engineering and technology occupations in industry, research, academia, and public service to benefit the future productivity of the UK and the lifetime earnings and career aspirations of women. It is the UK's leading centre providing information and advisory services to employers and organisations in the SET sectors and supporting women entering, returning and progressing in these fields.


1.  Detailed arguments and proposals are contained in the main body of the submission.

2.  A separate science or SET department in itself would not help gender equality and thereby improve science policy. It could diminish progress across similar and equally occupationally segregated industries and jobs, by creating silos.

3.  Current policy formulation of science is inherently weak as decision making bodies are not gender/diversity balanced. UKRC disagrees with the proposals from the government to drop the PSA target for women to be 40% of SET boards. Policy would also be improved through smarter strategy which joins up policies in different domains and machinery and champions to ensure that gender objectives and targets are set and achieved.

  4.  Successful consultations attract a high number of quality responses from diverse groups. But in addition, from the point of view of the UKRC and its stakeholders, success subsequently depends on how well gender or gender based concerns are clearly embedded into the policy being consulted on.

  5.  UKRC believes that engaging more women in science is essential, and it could form a virtuous circle, assisting with the take up of STEM education and employment opportunities. Better representation of women at all levels of engagement, decision making and delivery would help shape and influence policy for the better, as would a focus on women's concerns and interests, and the use of a "gender lens". This submission includes many suggestions.

  6.  We propose that UKRC has a more central role in the analysis, monitoring and gender impact assessment of science/SET policy at an early stage of development.

  7.  We propose that UKRC has a role in scrutiny, regarding any gender implications of science/SET policy.


IUSS asks:

  2.1  Whether the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Science and Innovation and the Council for Science and Technology put science and engineering at the heart of policy-making and whether there should be a Department for Science.

UKRC response on departmental arrangements

2.2  Our interest is in the way science and science policy, and policy generally can be improved as measured by the increased participation of women in science and science decision making. We argue that a separate department will not in itself create progress. It could even create silos between related areas of occupational segregation.

2.3  It is imperative that the conditions in the UK are right for women's full contribution to SET because we need a "representative and well qualified scientific workforce". We believe the formation of a Department for Science in itself will not be sufficient to put gender at the heart of science. To do this, requires understanding, a measured plan, and senior civil servants having the will to make progress, with support from expert agencies like the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET.

2.4  A separate science department could potentially be a silo in relation to other sectors that are equally gender segregated (eg ICT, construction) and limit progress on all fronts. Gains made in these and other sectors are often transferable and companies cut across sector boundaries. Such problems were the case with the old DTI/OST structure. By contrast with DIUS now, we are seeing more joined up thinking about education and employment pathways, and a greater understanding of occupational and vertical segregation and the position of SET within this.


IUSS asks:

  3.1  About how Government formulates science and engineering policy—the strengths and weaknesses of the current system.

UKRC response on the formulation of science and engineering policy

3.2  UKRC argues that science and engineering policy formulation would be improved by:

    —  More women in science and engineering decision making—  Smarter strategy which joins up policies in different domains

    —  Machinery and champions to ensure that gender objectives and targets are set and achieved:

    —  Facilitate an integrated, cross departmental approach to women and SET across all of the relevant policy areas

    —  Institute an integrated strategy on women in SET on the whole "leaky pipeline" of supply

    —  Charge the Minister for Science and Innovation with being the "Women and SET Champion" within Government, working with the Ministers for Women on occupational segregation, discrimination and the impact of caring responsibilities.[147]

    —  Reinforce the strategic importance of women in the supply of talented scientists and engineers at every formal opportunity in policy.

  3.3  It is our view that effective action to address women's disadvantage in SET and put gender on the agenda requires complex, cross cutting analyses and responses. SET is notoriously male dominated especially at senior and decision-making levels. Policy making at the higher levels also lacks an integrated gender perspective. This leaves the "gender questions" unasked.

  3.4  Gender analysis and relevant solutions are rarely included in higher level "mainstream" reports like Leitch and the STEM initiatives. Another opportunity was Race to the Top which could helped mesh policy on skills and the under representation of women in SET. Initiatives within science policy need to join up with for example, the Women and Work Commission, SET Fair (2002) and UKRC's expert advice.

  3.5  A key weakness is the lack of women on science and engineering decision making bodies. More equitable representation would help with excellence and with shaping priorities. The government should retain the 40% target for women on SET bodies.

  3.6  UKRC contends that "smarter" strategy on science, policy more widely and gender equality would:

    —  Join up the policy domains of gender equality, gender in SET, with those of science and innovation, skills and employment.

    —  Formulate policies with clearer, more explicit gender equality and diversity objectives, with targets where relevant.

  3.8  The Science and Innovation Minister acting as the Women and SET champion should lead this, linking with the UKRC as the lead delivery body, well placed to advise on policy impact as well as good practice. The expert group on women in SET can also advise.

  3.9  We also recommend a cross departmental body with a brief to ensure an equality framework within all the relevant SET policy fields. Diversity and women's diversity should be addressed through action to increase, for example, black and minority ethnic people's representation in SET. The key contractor for women in SET, the UKRC for Women in SET can advise this body.


IUSS asks

  4.1  Whether the views of the science and engineering community are, or should be, central to the formulation of government policy, and how the success of any consultation is assessed.

UKRC response on involving the community and consultation success

4.2  Consultations need to attract a good number of high quality responses, from diverse groups. We also recommend that:

    —  Those concerned with the under representation of women in SET, should be involved in consultations—  Higher level policies should signal important issues concerning inequality, gender and under representation,

    —  Success will involve proper consideration and reflection of issues in final policy

    —  Success for UKRC would be:

    —  Explicit statements about addressing women's equality and representation (going further than passing references to under representation or diversity)

    —  Effective machinery, champions and action to improve women's involvement in science

    —  Requirements for disaggregated statistics and monitoring

    —  Discourse/language demonstrating an understanding of gender (power) relations and the gendering of society

    —  Targets to assist with increasing the numbers of women (or men) in specific areas

    —  Commitments to positive action

    —  Commitments to flexible working and approaches for equal opportunities

    —  Provisions for "culture change" in science and science policy

    —  Support for the work of the UKRC

    —  Recommendations for "integrated strategies" with focus on all aspects of supply, demand, retention and progression of women in SET (ie we can't just focus on girls/schools/university).

  4.3  However, it is still rare for mainstream policy to clearly acknowledge and address women's under representation in science and engineering. It is rare even that diversity or inequality generally is mentioned. Signaling equality and issues of under representation at higher levels supports and guides commitment at implementation level.

  4.4  The UKRC is an organisational member of the science and engineering community. It works with employers in the sector, universities and colleges, intermediary organisations and individual women scientists and engineers. The UKRC makes regular submissions to departmental consultations and select committees. It also reports on its own work and service delivery and collates or commissions research into the under representation of women in SET. The formal responses encompass a wide range of policy areas—education, employment and skills, equality, as well as science and education.

  4.5  The UKRC can see the linkages between these policy areas and assist with integrated policy development. The following case study uses a recent consultation.

Case study

  4.6  During the development of the Vision for Science and Society (DIUS lead), with encouragement from DIUS, UKRC conducted a very successful (secondary) consultation to enable the voice of more than 200 stakeholders concerned with women in SET. The report[148] can be found on our website: www.ukrc4setwomen.org

4.7  The UKRC gathered a great deal of opinion and evidence from this exercise. There were many practical suggestions concerning excitement and valuing science, confidence in the use of science and a well qualified and representative work force.

  4.8  The suggestions about the workforce resonated with recommendations from SET Fair (2002) and to a very great extent confirmed our strategy.

  4.9  The consultation implied that the government wished to be informed and guided about a vision for science in society and practical steps. It was in this spirit that we all engaged.

  4.10  For the UKRC, success would be a vision that encompassed active efforts to:

    —  Address problems and issues in relation to gender imbalance and women's representation (on engagement, confidence, involvement, education, employment and media.

    —  Include recommendations which reflect the advice and findings of our consultation submission

  4.11  In conclusion, we draw attention to the online survey element of the consultation. Respondents focused on the SET work place. Too many painted a sorry picture of work in higher education, in academic research and in industry. This is not news to UKRC, but of great concern. This is why a strong steer in the forthcoming vision focusing on the under representation of women in SET and positive action to address it would indicate a "successful" consultation to us, and we believe most of the individual women (and men) who contributed.


IUSS asks:

  5.1  How can we engage the public and increase public confidence in science and engineering policy.

UKRC response to issue of engagement and confidence in science and engineering policy

5.2.1  UKRC argues there is no single solution to women's increased confidence and engagement in science and scientific policy. We need measures to address several inter related factors concerning women's:

    —  wider participation in democracy and in dialogue about science —  representation and visibility in the science workforce at all levels and roles

    —  representation in policy fields

    —  needs and interests being reflected in scientific practice and policy priorities, and in government and policy generally

    —  equal representation in the leadership and governance of science.

  5.2.2  UKRC also argues that improvements across these domains:

    —  require a commitment and good practice on gender equality

    —  would be accelerated by full implementation of the Gender Equality Duty

    —  would be aided by systematic positive action initiatives nationally to increase the number of women in the SET workforce, including targeting and outreach.

  5.2.3  UKRC consultation participants called for these gender related changes to improve science and science policy:

    —  Engagement of women and men equally with science issues and policies

    —  Scientists to share knowledge and not protect their status. Scientists need also to explain to other professionals

    —  Inclusiveness and balance in the viewpoints which define science priorities

    —  Fairness in the distribution of impacts and benefits of science and technology policies for men and women

    —  Conscious consideration of possible areas of unfairness to women or men (in government and public sector policy, business practice, education policy and related areas)

    —  The promotion and involvement of more women to positions of leadership and policy formation

    —  Fixed quotas on all public committees[149]

    —  Gender Audits of all new science policy for equity and transparency

    —  A science communication policy that reaches and represents women as well as men

    —  Stronger guidelines for press and media reporting on controversial science issues. A kitemark for good reporting.


  5.2.4  UKRC consultation participants also offered large number of suggestions to increase confidence and engagement amongst women as citizens. Targeting was an essential feature:

    —  More consultation and discussion through organisations like UKRC

    —  Take science out of the laboratory, boardroom or committee

    —  Meet with women on their own terms

    —  Selective and targeted use of media and new media (including popular media) to ensure all women are reached

    —  Promotion of role models eg women scientists better represented in the media

    —  Target women in science fields who don't see themselves as scientists (eg health professionals)

    —  Use women's non SET networking sites and women's organisations

    —  Outreach activities with adult women, including mothers

    —  Businesses to engage more in outreach activities

    —  Use specialist women in SET networks and groups

    —  Support for organisations such as UKRC that reach and work with women

    —  University groups

    —  Pensioner groups

    —  Debating forums in every city

    —  Engage with the voluntary sector

    —  Orchestrate events where women are likely to come on their own

    —  Demonstrate the relevance and utility of science in addressing concerns often held by women

    —  Disseminate female oriented research

    —  Undertake more research that redresses gender bias/neglect

    —  Influence the professional bodies engaged in SET

    —  Public national campaigns via TV to raise awareness of what individuals can do to make a difference

    —  More direct engagement with communities

  5.2.5  Media and communication in increasing engagement and confidence:

    —  Science communication—women scientists should play an appropriate role that enhances their standing as scientists, raises the profile of women scientists and women's interests in science, and improves the standards of communication.

    —  Media—representation—women as scientists need to be better represented in the media and representations of women scientists should never be gender stereotyped or sexist.

Additional background to the recommendations

  5.3  UKRC believes that making science more clearly relevant to women as a diverse but identifiable group would increase engagement overall. This is right for society and right for women's equality. Some science issues have an obvious gender dimension but not all do. However whether women have a gender based interest or not—women's views, needs and concerns as 50% of the population, are always relevant. We also believe that engaging more women would also assist with the take up of science or STEM education and employment opportunities, forming a virtuous circle.

5.4  Relevance, confidence, understanding and "scientific literacy" are all essential elements. Each must be approached with a willingness to explore a wide variety of gender dimensions, which are sometimes "concealed" from us.

  5.5  If women and girls form a greater proportion of the "disaffected", the disinterested and the scared as they are said to do, then government, business and the voluntary sector should be targeting them to increase their understanding, their confidence and their engagement.[150] This is a good example of the need for positive action (through targeting and outreach for example).


IUSS asks

  6.1  About the role of GO-Science, DIUS and other Government departments, charities, learned societies, Regional Development Agencies, industry and other stakeholders in determining UK science and engineering policy.

UKRC response to questions about the role of various organisations in science and engineering policy.

6.2  We propose that UKRC has a more central role in the analysis, gender impact assessment and monitoring of science policy at an early stage.

6.3  The UKRC like many other intermediary and influencing organisations can bring its particular expertise, perspective and constituency in relation to women's participation and progression in science and engineering.

6.4  The UKRC is well placed to engage women and men in thinking about science and science policy. Through the vision consultation for example, we have found an appetite. Our links with a wide range of stakeholders, including women in SET organisations and women's organisations whose remit is not primarily science related, should be tapped.


IUSS asks

  7.1  IUSS asks how government science and engineering policy should be scrutinized.

UKRC response on scrutiny

7.2  We propose that UKRC has a role in scrutiny regarding any gender implications of science policy.

7.3  Women need to be properly represented in scrutiny. Men and women involved in scrutiny should raise a "gender lens". The presence of indicators, targets, disaggregated statistic, gender equality action schemes, positive action relating to women should be high on the agenda of the scrutineers. Gender equality experts from the UKRC and other organisations can support the machinery of scrutiny.

The following two brief case studies illustrate how a gender lens in scrutiny reveals ways to improve policy.

Case Study 1

  7.4  Scrutiny of UK innovation policy reveals reveals an absence of analysis about its gender dimensions.

7.4.1  Under explored in thinking about innovation are the links between innovation, research and development (R and D) and the involvement of women (and other under-represented groups). Some interesting research from Germany suggests that companies need to examine their R and D departments for their effectiveness Schraudner (2006).

"The intensive interaction with partners in the marketplace, research institutions and customers increases the efficiency and effectiveness of innovation performance."[151]

  7.4.2  This research suggests a number of ways gender is relevant in the R and D process:

    new objectives for technological developments

    the context for a new product or service during development

    adaptations of existing products or services for new uses.

  7.4.3  One aspect of their analysis showed how different specific products and services took account of gender to different degrees throughout the innovation cycle. This led to differing success:

    Voice recognition systems needed to take account of higher voices and user tests had been done without women; new skis were developed with women in mind and in the process; a care robot needed to be developed for the different care needs (personal hygiene or cleaning) requested by women and men; in the exploration phase, attention was not paid to women's symptoms in heart attack, leading to a lower chance of survival; water pumps were unsuccessful where design did not take account of culturally unacceptable behaviour for women.

  7.4.4  If women aren't involved in R and D in sufficient numbers and positions of leadership, if women as customers with specific gendered needs are invisible because gender is not disaggregated, if women are not progressing through our universities into research and other positions of leadership in industry, it is very likely that we will lose opportunities for innovation across all its phases and in terms of all stakeholders.

  7.4.5  The German work included a programme of intervention to develop greater gender sensitization in innovation that merits further consideration in case it is transferable here.

Case Study 2

  7.5  Race to the Top

7.5.1  We take Chapter 4 on Knowledge Transfer from Race to the Top and demonstrate how a gender lens can indicate additional or modified policy and practice recommendations.

  7.5.2  Opportunities to move into industry are as important to women and men working in SET. A number of the recommendations of this chapter could have been enhanced by a gender focus to ensure that women are getting appropriate access to schemes and programmes. A case could be made for positive action where women have been under represented.

  Rec 4.2 (page 60) Senior Industrial Professionals should be aware of and charged with taking positive action in respect of industry facing activities

  Rec 4.3 (page 60) The competition which allocates HEIF4 funding should have gender criteria

  Research Councils who are already engaged in the equality and diversity agenda could be incentivised in relation to gender (page 61)

  Initiatives with SMEs and NfP organisations present an ideal opportunity to maximise women's participation (page 61)

  Rec 4.5 (page 63-4) The expansion of the KTPs should build in gender and diversity related requirements. What is the gender disaggregated breakdown of placements over the past few years? Analysis could show if women are under-represented in partnerships and, if so, it would be possible to design positive action to increase the interest and success of women. However, without the figures we do not know if there is a problem. UKRC has some evidence that women are not entering UK SET entrepreneurship so readily.

  The mini KTP programme and the developments in FE should be gender proofed and the Gender Equality Duty's guidance applied.

  The PSRE Fund's impact and development should also be looked at from a gender perspective: as a start, gender disaggregation of the data around leadership/ownership and participation in projects, spin outs etc. Beneficiaries of the fund should be able to demonstrate that they have gender proofed their work, along the lines of the German innovation initiative (in case study 1 above).

January 2009

147   UKRC argues that gender needs to be addressed as a distinct area of "diversity" and not subsumed into a vague and therefore ineffective "generic" approach to equality and diversity.  Back

148   UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Response to the Consultation on the vision for science and society. Back

149   There are distinctions to be made between quotas and targets. The UKRC tends to recommend targets. Back

150   Reference here to remarks made by Jim Al-Khalili, Prof. of Physics and of Public Engagement in Science, University of Surrey, at UKRC event at Liverpool BA Festival 2008.  Back

151   Schraudner, M. (2006) Gender Aspects in Research-A Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology (Presentation to 13th Meeting of the Helsinki Group, Brussels, January 2006) Back

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