The Case for Women in Science10th February 2023
February 11th marks International Day of Women and Girls in science, the purpose of which is to promote the ‘full and equal access and participation of females in STEM’.
According to United Nations, “Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development.”
Gender diversity in science can have many advantages, yet organisations continue to lag behind in female representation. But the truth is, we need more girls and women in science, so we must explore how these gender differences can be better understood and addressed. In doing so, we are paving the way for greater inclusivity in hiring practices and enabling businesses to build diverse workforces who are empowered to succeed.
To enrich the workings of this article, we spoke to female leaders of prominent science companies to discern their thoughts on the matter of gender diversity. Our interviewees included Nadia Whittley, CEO of Arquer DX, a dynamic, female-led company working at the cutting-edge of cancer diagnostics, and Pippa Franklin, Director & Company Secretary of AGMA Ltd, a chemical solutions company that have helped businesses across a range of sectors achieve their regulatory and operational goals for over 50 years.
So, why does gender inequality in science persist?
A significant gender gap persists at all levels of science both in the UK and globally. Despite the progress that women have made, they remain under-represented in this field, but why?
Nadia Whittley shares her thoughts on why gender inequality persists in science:
“In my experience gender inequality in science starts from school and is influenced by factors such as stereotypes about women’s intellectual abilities (perhaps cultural sometimes) as well as lack of role models. This is why it is extremely important to not only make sure that successful examples are celebrated within their own companies/network groups, but that they are given the opportunity to share their experience in schools and through mentoring programs.”
It’s clear that the barriers women face when pursuing careers in science stem from multiple issues, let’s explore some of these further:
Imposter Syndrome is something that disproportionately affects women. This materialises during school years when girls are subject to constructive feedback and have a tendency to take it more personally than boys.
The criticism girls receive can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a reluctancy to chase after their most ambitious professional goals.
Male and female social conditioning delivers stereotypes that prescribe men as being better at science and maths than women. However, women are not underrepresented in these fields because they are lacking in skill, but because they face gender barriers when entering these male-dominated professions.
A lack of strong female mentors
Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative impact that a lack of mentorship has on the professional development of female scientists. Acting as a trusted advisor to the mentee, mentors can help women to strengthen their talents and remain focused on their career trajectory.
In pursuit of a career in science women face a unique set of challenges that can be difficult to overcome without support. Thus, receiving advice from someone who has gone through a similar journey can help them to identify the correct path to success and plot out a personalised route to reach their professional milestones. Mentors can recommend women for stretch assignments and introduce them to powerful influencers that will help shape their career.
What are the organisational benefits of inviting more diversity into science?
Diverse workplaces cultivate a welcoming culture where all individuals feel valued and encouraged to express their unique abilities and talents. Recruiting diverse talent is a sure-fire strategy for future-proofing the business and creating an opportunity to make a bigger impact.
According to Nadia Whittley, “Widening the talent pool has a direct impact on innovation and creativity and I have experienced this in every role/company I have ever worked with.”
Unquestionably, companies have a higher chance of creating sustainable success if they choose to leverage the ability and skill of a diverse group of minds with a well-rounded mix of viewpoints and behaviours.
Inviting more diversity into science also leads to better outcomes for customers, the chance to produce better research and an increased ability to solve the world’s problems.
So, what can businesses do to attract and retain more talented women into science?
According to Nadia Whittley, businesses need to:
“Work on mentorship programs, work closely with schools/universities and ultimately embed true inclusivity in the corporate values, holding people accountable for it. This should be reflected in how companies recruit right up to Board composition. I have met too many companies interested in having women on the Board, but only because “they had to be seen”, not really because they would value the true contribution that diversity and inclusivity would bring.”
Evidently, the important role that women play in science needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. This involves representing women as leaders and decision makers, encouraging them to speak up with confidence and developing environments that enable and empower them to lead, participate and influence.
Pippa Franklin shares her thoughts:
“I think there are many variables that cause inequalities. Our job as an employer, is to try and engage with schools and universities. To encourage everyone interested in science, to have an opportunity to experience and learn. I think companies having a closer relationship with academic institutions will help drive this change. STEM subjects as a whole are paramount to developing economies and markets, whilst driving change and innovation. This is what we should look to as the future and by engaging women and girls at a grassroots level, will help strive to really develop and engage not just with young emerging but also established talent.”
Without question, there is a lot to gain from exposing girls to STEM subjects early on, and from supporting them to develop their talents in these fields.
Here are our top tips for achieving a greater gender balance in science:
- Teach unconscious bias as part of the onboarding process
- Be proactive about seeking female talent
- Offer clear progression opportunities for women
- Promote pay equality
- Be clear about the company values so women can identify with an employer whose values mirror their own
- Include the company’s commitment to gender diversity in organisational policies
- Inspire women to contribute and excel in their roles by offering mentoring programmes
- Promote more women into senior and leadership positions
- Offer women the flexibility to manage a work-life dynamic
Here at CY Partners, we strongly believe that organisations should be working tirelessly to alleviate the biases that stand in the way of women advancing in science. It’s time for businesses to take charge and actively recruit more talented women to this exciting and dynamic field.
We are proud to say that as a business we take a proactive approach to attracting and placing women into both temporary and permanent scientific roles. In 2022, across all the candidates we supported and placed into a cross section of science businesses, the female/male ratio was approximately 60:40.
As a scientific recruitment partner, we are committed to empowering women scientists to unlock their full potential. So, if you are a female who is looking to kickstart or further your career in science, or if you’re interested in talking to our team about how we could help you develop a more inclusive hiring process, contact us here.
We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to Nadia Whittley and Pippa Franklin for their contributions.