Women in Scientific Careers: House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee report

portcullisYesterday (6 February) saw the publication of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s report on Women in Scientific Careers. This follows on from their inquiry last summer that explored a range of issues relating to women in academic STEM careers.

The Biochemical Society has a strong record of championing women in biochemistry and as such welcomes the publication of this report. As a member organisation of the Society of Biology, the Society provided input into the umbrella body’s pan-bioscience response to the inquiry. We are pleased that the report references the Society of Biology’s response several times.

Although the biosciences are often thought to be the most gender-balanced of the sciences, the Biochemical Society is concerned that this balance does not pervade throughout every stage of the career ladder. Data reported by HESA for 2011/12 indicated that while 61% of postgraduate students studying the discipline were female, only 15% of professors were female.

In order to ameliorate this situation – which is prevalent across STEM – the Committee’s report calls for an increase in the number of longer term positions for post-doctoral researchers, and for diversity training to be introduced for students, line managers, and people on recruitment panels. It notes that Government efforts are largely focused on encouraging girls to study STEM, with little focus on enabling them to progress in STEM careers and that this must be changed. The report also expresses disappointment that BIS spending dedicated to improving diversity in STEM was virtually halved in the 2010 Spending Review. Furthermore, the Committee encourages all High Education Institutions conducting STEM research to participate in the Athena SWAN Charter, or a similar recognised programme. The Biochemical Society, as a founding sponsor of the Charter, welcomes this encouragement.

The Committee also make several recommendations for learned societies. These include to review how gender analysis can improve research findings within different STEM disciplines and formulate guidance on the matter and to emphasise both male and female role models who have successfully combined a STEM career with family life. The Biochemical Society will aim to take these recommendations on board in our future work on diversity both as an individual society and in collaboration with the Society of Biology.

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