Some words on Women in Science…

The dream combination: December has been a month of sushi and science. I’ve got stories on the Imperial news website about the UK Space Design Competition and Routes to STEM, our panel discussion for young women. For the WISE campaign I’ve also written about our Imperial Athena celebrations and my own little bio.

In light of this, I was asked to write a blog on how to get more women in your physics work force. Here’s what I had to say.

You’ve heard it all before: we need more women in physics. But…women make up 39 % of physics undergraduates and only 15.8% of engineering and technology undergraduates.[1] So how do we do it? What actually works?

Be clear about why you’re doing it

The places that really celebrate their women and have the stats to back it up are incredibly successful. The University of York’s chemistry department was the first in the UK to be awarded the coveted Gold Athena SWAN award, have 45 % female undergradautes and 94 % of the research activity is judged as ‘internationally excellent’.[2] Institutions that shout loudly and widely about their efforts are rewarded; creating cultures “where great scientists, and those with the potential to become them, can flourish, whatever their gender”.[3]

 Check the language of your job ads

Most jobs starts with an advert. There’s significant research to show women are less likely to apply for positions that ‘sound’ like they’re for a man: job adverts seeking people who are ‘assertive’ ‘independent’ are turning women off the role.[4] Women are known to downplay their achievements and are put off long lists of requirements. Ensure the organisation’s commitment to gender diversity is clear in the job description, and provide links to appropriate, up-to-date web pages. If it’s not working: get creative![5]

Plan your search

Try to have a diverse search committee with a ‘diversity champion’. Obviously, no one wants to introduce mandatory quotas, but if you spread the net wider you’re likely to find more women. Look at what’s worked around your organisation: if people have been successful in hiring women, ask how they got it to work and where they looked. Try to look inside your company too! Research shows that women are less likely to self-promote and that their CV’s are more critically reviewed.[6],[7] The majority of academic disciplines have internationally recognised professional networks associated with them, many of which have subcommittees for women’s activities.[8],[9],[10] The newsletters, mailing lists and websites of learned institutes can be key in your recruiting efforts.

Have a diverse interview panel

Ensure that all panels aren’t one gender, and, ideally that some have had unconscious bias training.[11] Make sure the panel have clear roles, meet in advance and have clear, pre-determined criteria for candidates.m

Wrap Up

Places that have excelled in their support and promotion of women all give extensive feedback to candidates that had been unsuccessful at interview.[12] If you have the time, check how the careers of women who were not hired have progressed: if they’ve excelled, assess if unconscious bias within your panel affected their assessment.

Now that they’re in, how can you support women who are there?

Promote the gender diversity activities going on around your workplace- and if they aren’t, why aren’t they! Women’s groups can be as informal as monthly coffee or drinks evenings or as formal as regular seminars and group training. Circulate campaigns that support men and women to return to research with flexible fellowships and renewed confidence after a career breaks.[13] Try to advertise a professional development programmes for women and have a departmental champion who supports these activities.[14] Keep male and female staff aware of the support schemes in place such as flexible working, child-care or maternity/paternity leave.[15] Try to nurture the diverse talent in your department, demonstrating that you want to retain and develop their skills irrespective of gender.[16] This can be achieved by getting your communications and development teams on-board with the idea of increasing workforce diversity.

After you’ve tried everything- relax. You’re heading in the right direction..” companies employing women in large numbers outperform their competitors on every measure”






[6] Biernat, M. and Kathleen Fuegen (2001). Shifting Standards and the Evaluation of Competence: Complexity in Gender-Based Judgment and Decision Making. Journal of Social Issues, 57 (4), 707-724.

[7] Valian, Virginia (1999) Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.











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