1 Introduction |
1. The scientific profession has been
slow to open its doors to women and history offers many examples
of women scientists whose work and contributions were unfairly
overlooked, for example Rosalind Franklin's contribution to determining
the structure of DNA in the 1950s.
Gender diversity in science and engineering has improved somewhat
since then, but contentious attitudes towards women in science
still remain and many practical barriers hinder women's progression
in scientific careers. The under-representation of women in science
has been explored in-depth and there are numerous organisations
and initiatives striving to improve gender diversity in science,
technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) study and careers.
However, despite the attention that the topic has received, it
has been estimated that "it will take 50 or 80 years before
we get gender equality if we just keep doing the same thing, hoping
that the pipeline will produce more women" scientists.
Currently only 13 per cent of all STEM jobs in the UK are occupied
by women. The loss of
women at later stages of a career pathway is often referred to
as "the leaky pipeline" (see paragraph 10).
2. There are many routes into a STEM
career, and we have previously highlighted the importance of vocational
training and education.
In addition, many STEM workers are employed in industry. However
we focused this inquiry on academic careers because "the
main route of entry [into STEM careers], particularly into senior
specialist roles or academic positions, remains through the [higher
In addition, the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee
published its Report on Women in the Workplace in June
2013, which examined STEM in a wider exploration of workplace
equality and diversity.
Many of the BIS Committee's findings were relevant to STEM industry
but academic careers have unique characteristics. With the intention
of complementing the work of the BIS Committee, we announced our
inquiry on Women in STEM careers, focusing on the retention
of women in academic STEM careers, on 25 June 2013, and sought
written submissions on the following questions:
a) Why do numbers of women in STEM
academic careers decline further up the career ladder?
b) When women leave academia, what
careers do they transition into? What are the consequences of
scientifically trained women applying their skills in different
c) What should universities and
the higher education sector do to retain women graduates and PhD
students in academic careers? Are there examples of good practice?
d) What role should the Government
have in encouraging the retention of women in academic STEM careers?
We received over 90 written submissions
and took oral evidence from 13 witnesses including academic researchers,
diversity and equality groups, universities, research and funding
councils and the Government. We would like to thank everyone who
submitted oral or written evidence to our inquiry, particularly
those who shared their personal experiences of STEM careers.
3. This report concentrates on STEM
careers but also highlights the need for a holistic approach to
tackle gender diversity, which includes STEM education. Chapter
2 outlines why gender diversity in science matters. Chapter 3
explores how gender perceptions affect the retention of women
in STEM careers and Chapter 4 covers the practicalities of an
academic research career. Chapter 5 contains our final conclusions.
1 The Nobel Prize for the
discovery of the structure of DNA was awarded to Francis Crick
and James Watson; for other examples see also "6 Women Scientists
Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism", National Geographic Online,
19 May 2013, http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/ Back
Q 90 [Clem Herman] Back
Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: from
Classroom to Boardroom UK Statistics 2012, p.1 Wise Campaign
Online, http://www.wisecampaign.org.uk Back
Science and Technology Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2012-13,
Educating tomorrow's engineers: the impact of Government reforms
on 14-19 education, HC 665 Back
WSC 79 [Government] para 12 Back
Business Innovation and Skills Committee, First Report of Session
2013-14, Women in the Workplace, HC 342 Back
Science and Technology Committee, Women in STEM Careers, Press
Release, 25 June 2013, www.parliament.uk/science