The Fabian Women’s Network held an event ‘Time to release the UK’s potential energy’ to explore what the UK has to benefit by boosting women’s presence in science and innovation, as well as the ways of achieving this. The discussion included prominent speakers Chi Onwurah (MP) Shadow Minister for Innovation, Dr Laura Nelson (writer, campaigner, social entrepreneur), Professor Athene Donald (University of Cambridge) and Paul Jackson (Chief Executive, Engineering UK).
The panellists presented their views on the barriers to women in science and offered some immediate solutions to the problem. They also highlighted the inequality at the various education levels, from low numbers of women taking science related A-levels and university degrees, to obstacles and disproportional representation of women later on in the workforce, academia as well as the industrial sector. The panel agreed that this is not the case of one problem which could be fixed; instead they stressed the need to address the spectrum of obstacles. This includes barriers such as cultural and social stigma regarding the women in science, wider gender stereotypes, inadequate recruitment, the glassceiling effect and inequality agenda as well as the lack of urgency in the political sphere to stimulate growth by encouraging women in science.
Several actions were highlighted by each of the panellists as the way forward, including a more active use of rolemodels, more aggressive and targeted recruitment of women, breaking down stereotypes through awareness raising and activism (such as Breakthrough), awareness raising through national campaigns such as The Big Bang Fair and a wider, livelier debate with regards to the unexplored potential.
The statistics presented at the event illustrated the alarming shortage of women in the scientific, industrial and engineering sector which stands for a substantial economic contribution to the UK growth. Coincidentally, the statistics also revealed the underrepresentation of women in science at almost all education levels, but also with regards to the state of some of the biggest economies in the world. India, for instance, has several times higher number of women in science and engineering than is the case in the UK.
The latter part of the events included a lively and engaging discussion between the panellists and the audience, who all believed that the declining role of women in science and engineering calls for an urgent action as a vital part of an all-inclusive UK growth strategy. Moreover, the panel agreed that this should be done as part of a joined up strategy between the industrial and educational sector, while supported by an urgency driven political and progressive stimulation of the debate which the Fabian Women’s Network will continue to support and encourage.
The event was chaired by Ivana Bartoletti, Editor of Fabiana. The event also marked and celebrated the successful publication of the third issue of Fabiana.
Writer: Dr Maja Brkic, FWN mentee