Dr Kath Mackay, managing director, Bruntwood SciTech – Alderley Park, explains how, on International Women’s Day, the science sector needs to level the playing field for females in order to face up to a testing ten years so that it can truly be #EachforEqual.
UK science will face myriad transformational challenges over the next decade. Britain’s exit from the European Union is one of the biggest. A potentially smaller pool of talent available for UK firms to choose from, a likely decline in foreign direct investment and a deviation away from regulatory norms pose significant threats to the sector.
Nurturing the finest homegrown talent and redressing the gender imbalance will be essential to neutralising these risks and making the most of opportunities further down the line. But the lack of gender diversity in science means that we’re fighting these challenges with one hand tied behind our back.
Too few STEM leaders are female, but this is widely known. What we need to do is turn knowledge into action.
There are three reasons why females are under-represented in science. First, not enough opt to pursue STEM subjects beyond GCSE level. Second, women are often overlooked for boardroom roles in favour of men. And third, those who achieve leadership positions are seldom given a sufficient platform to showcase STEM as a female-friendly industry.
Solutions to the science shortage
So, what can be done to tackle these barriers to entry? Establishing a more encouraging education environment for girls and young women is an obvious starting point. Many companies have already started to do their bit to tackle issues within science through lobbying and school outreach work.
But this is only a starting point. A culture change among science and technology firms is required in order to successfully enhance attitudes towards the sector.
For example, progressive parental leave and flexible working policies are needed to eradicate the thinking that successfully raising a family and advancing in industry are mutually exclusive. Related to this is actively working to remove bias from recruitment, something you’d expect to not still be an issue, but is.
Finally, there must be visible role models for the young females that we are trying so hard to inspire. It’s imperative to ensure that female entrepreneurs and their start-ups have time to flourish, as too often promising talent and ideas are snapped up by big pharma before they have chance to shine. After all, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.
Bruntwood SciTech is committed to making in-roads on these issues and is supporting major STEM initiatives. These include TechSheCan, Digital Her and Founders4Schools, all of which are doing outstanding work to promote science and tech careers to young women.
Across Bruntwood SciTech’s national network there is a wealth of inspiring women whose stories prove that females can make an impact in the STEM industries. Tiffany Daniels-Thorn at BiVictriX Theraputics here at Alderley Park, Shopper.com’s Sonu Bubna at Innovation Birmingham and mHabitat’s founder Dr Victoria Betton at Platform in Leeds are just a few examples of women leading change and development in UK science. Their work is vital, but they can’t drive progress alone.
This International Women’s Day should act as a reminder that it’s incumbent on everyone in the industry – male and female – to work together to address these issues. And not just for equality’s sake – it’s mission critical.
Dr Kath Mackay is managing director, Bruntwood SciTech – Alderley Park