The role of women in science and their historic under-representation in the field are explored in a new short documentary film and book. Women have come a very long way to achieving equality with men in science but, despite this progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less, win fewer grants, and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men. The reasons range from overt and covert sexism to the unavoidable coincidence of the productive and reproductive years. To enable more women to reach the top of their profession there is still a need for a culture shift and a move away from unconscious bias.
As an example, here in Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, 50% of our named chairs are female, as are 36% of our professoriate (well above the UK average). However, our mid-career female academics are often poached to prestigious chairs around the world. When we try to recruit new younger academics, we often don’t get female applicants pushing themselves forward from universities across the UK and abroad. When half our undergraduates are female, and getting better grades than the men, why can we not convince them that a career in science is stimulating, rewarding, can be flexible, and is even sometimes well paid?
This initiative, entitled A Chemical Imbalance, encompasses a film and a book which tell the story of how the University of Edinburgh’s female scientists have fought for equality, beginning with street riots in the 1870s. Today, an Edinburgh professor is the first female president of the Royal Society of Chemistry. A Chemical Imbalance was funded by the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Prize and aims to highlight some of the persistent challenges faced by women. It is also a call to action, contributing to the wider debate about how science can progress towards equality. The key points of the action plan are to:
1. Monitor our numbers – to eliminate unconscious bias
2. Mentor our people – to make sure the best are applying
3. Create a workplace that supports everyone and allows flexibility