Women do belong in science

Cherry Canovan, research student with the Dept of Physics, University of Lancaster
Cherry Canovan, research student with the Dept of Physics, University of Lancaster
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A woman’s place is... in the lab – according to scientists at Lancaster University.

The university is hosting an event tomorrow, exploring the hurdles which still exist for women who wish to further their careers in science – both in industry and academia.

The latest research and best practice will be looked at, and there will be a range of speakers and interactive workshops.

Among those speaking will be Dr Carol Marsh, from the Women’s Engineering Society on gender balances, Dr Valerie Bevan, from Lancaster University, on women’s place in science, Prof Takruri-Rizk from Salford University on gender segregation and Dr Jo Heaton-Marriott from the University of Central Lancashire, Preston – who is also the chapter lead of Science Grrl Lancashire, talking about how science is for everyone.

There will also be workshops on unconscious biases and the recruitment, retention and advancement of women.

The event, taking place from 10am until 4pm, at Lancaster University, has been organised by the university’s Women In Physics group, along with the university’s Department of Engineering.

Figures from 2009/10 show while there has been a small increase in the percentage of female staff across the country in physics, it is still relatively low – and proportionately low at higher levels, such as senior lecturers and professors.

The event is aimed at those considering a career in science, those studying scientific subjects, those working in the industry and those teaching scientific subjects.

Cherry Canovan, research student in the department of physics at Lancaster University, set up the Women In Physics group.

She said: “We’re really hoping to get a good spread of people attending, from across the region, from across industry and academia.

“We’re hoping to be able to show what we’ve discovered.

“It’s about science as a whole, not just physics.

“There are some problems with recruiting young women to go to university to study these subjects, but this is more about what happens once they decide they want to pursue a career in these fields.

“We have a big problem with what is called the leaky pipeline.

“What we’ve found is that as you go higher up the ranks, the proportion of women gets lower. There are female university undergraduates in science, but the statistics show the proportion of women drops as you get higher up to professor level. So we are losing them along the way.

“There are lots of things we’re identifying which might prove barriers.

“And simple, small steps can sometimes can make a big difference – family friendly policies, for example.

“It might be something like holding meetings within core hours, to allow those with family responsibilities, such as those who have young children at home, or who care for an elderly relative – for example.

“So perhaps rather than have a dinner, have a lunch meeting.

“These simple things can really make a difference in the working environment.”

Research has shown both men and women can unconsciously discriminate against women when it comes to scientific roles.

Cherry said: “There tends to be an unconscious bias. People don’t realise they’re doing it.

“And both men and women use this unconscious bias to make decisions when it comes to promotions.

“In research, CVs were sent out for men and women with exactly the same expertise and people generally leaned towards the men.

“There can be a lack of female role models too.

“We have the Women 
In Physics group which I started.

“It’s quite a big department and you might not get to be in touch with or meet other women in physics.

“We also have informal mentoring opportunities.

“We know we might have students from the Fylde coast area interested in coming along to the event and we are hoping to meet with people from other institutions across the area and work together on these issues.”

For more information, visit www.physics.lancs.ac.uk/events/001468/a-womans-place