Women in scientific careers - Science and Technology Committee Contents

5  Conclusions

76. Dr Nicola Patron, Sainsbury Laboratory, stated that "the academic career system was developed when most faculty members were men (with stay-at-home wives) who could relocate to available research posts as they became available".[365] She added "in an era of dual-career families, science is a difficult choice for everyone".[366] The Women's Engineering Society (WES) stated that "the issue of women engineers and scientists goes back to WW1" and that "there have been almost annual enquiries into aspects of this issue for many years and 'wake-up calls' followed by short term projects every decade since the 1970s and even before".[367] The WES added that "progress has been modest, at best, and short term at worst" with "too much fragmentation of effort and re-invention of wheels".[368] It called for "action rather than examining, over and over again, why the situation exists".[369] The Campaign for Science and Engineering similarly highlighted that "what is needed is not more recommendations, but more action".[370] Our inquiry has not uncovered any new issues on the topic of gender diversity in STEM subjects. This indicates that the problems and solutions have long been identified, yet not enough is being done to actively improve the situation. While competitiveness for jobs is beneficial for science, careers should not be constructed in such a way that talented women are deterred from remaining and progressing in STEM. It is astonishing that despite clear imperatives and multiple initiatives to improve diversity in STEM, women still remain under-represented at senior levels across every discipline.

77. The under-representation of women in STEM is caused by a wide range of factors. Emphasis is often placed on inspiring young girls to choose science, which is commendable, but such efforts are wasted if women are then disproportionately disadvantaged in scientific careers compared to men. It is disappointing that biases and working practices result in systematic and cumulative discrimination against women throughout STEM study and academic careers.

78. Universities and other HEIs are the employers of academic STEM researchers so they have ultimate responsibility for employment conditions and the greatest obligation to improve STEM careers for all researchers. While there are many examples of good practice in diversity management, some HEIs appear to be too content to devolve responsibility for working hours, careers support and promotion down to research groups. More standardisation is required across the higher education (HE) sector. We encourage all HEIs conducting STEM research to apply for Athena SWAN awards, or similar recognised schemes.

365   WSC 21 [Dr Nicola Patron] para 7 Back

366   WSC 21 [Dr Nicola Patron] para 7 Back

367   WSC 38 [Women's Engineering Society] Back

368   WSC 38 [Women's Engineering Society] Back

369   WSC 38 [Women's Engineering Society] Back

370   WSC 98 [Campaign for Science and Engineering] Back

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Prepared 6 February 2014