international women's day 2011

Suffrage Science – Celebrating the collective contribution of women to life science

Posted on: 27 January 2011

Science used to be a gentleman’s pastime. In the past century many more women have been able to pursue scientific careers than was formerly possible. However, in the UK today, a man is still six times more likely to work in a science, engineering, or technology profession than a woman , despite the fact that women make up just under half of the UK workforce (Women and men in science, engineering and technology: the UKRC statistics guide 2010).

However, it’s not all bad news. More young women are doing science at secondary level, a few more are taking STEM degrees, and there is some improvement in the number entering scientific occupations. But the UK still has a ‘leaky pipeline’, with women falling through the net at every stage. The end result is poor representation at the top, in senior positions.

Research suggests that diverse teams including men and women foster innovation and economic development. How can we better harness this in science? Our forthcoming publication will explore the issues underlying the scarcity of women in scientific professions, while simultaneously celebrating the collective contribution of female researchers to the life sciences in the past century.

Giving Women Power

    “Power is usually not given willingly, but taken”
    Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects (BBC Radio 4)

A hundred years have not yet passed since women were granted the right to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst and Louise Eates spent the late 19th and early 20th centuries protesting for equal rights. These famous sufragettes were presented with specially commissioned pieces of jewellery by the Women’s Social and Political Union to acknowledge their important contribution in the fight for equal voting rights in the UK, granted finally by 1928.

The establishment of organizations like UKRC – the Government’s lead body for the provision of advice, services and policy consultation regarding the under-representation of women in science, engineering, technology – highlights the broader recognition of gender equality in the UK today. However, women remain a minority group within the scientific and technological sector, so there is clearly still a need to promote women in science.

To mark the centenary of International Women’s Day 2011, the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre is teaming together with Central St Martins College of Art & Design to develop a collection of jewellery and textiles in celebration of the important contribution that many women have made to the life sciences in the past century.

Drawing upon the aesthetic of the ‘suffrage’ movement, Central Saint Martins is running jewellery and textiles competitions to produce bespoke designs as heirlooms for leading women scientists. The final pieces will be awarded to the leading women scientists, featured in the the forthcoming publication: Suffrage Science. Jewellery will be passed on to up-and-coming female scientists – a science heirloom – in a bid to shore up the ‘leaky pipeline’.

Suffrage Science will feature articles based on conversations between leading researches in life science and communication.

    Introduction: Biographer Brenda Maddox (author of the Dark Lady of DNA) discusses women in science with broadcaster, Vivienne Parry

    Love: Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Dr Helen Fisher on the neurobiology of human behaviour and the women that inspired them

    Life: Professor Liz Robertson and Dr Sohaila Rastan from chromosomes to embryos and the female pioneers in developmental biology

    Structure: Professor Janet Thornton and Prof Dame Louise Johnson discuss the contribution of female structural biologists to our understanding of the molecules of life

    Strife: Professor Mary Collins talks to Dr Fiona Watt about cancer and HIV biology and the advances in our understanding of these global diseases attributable to women scientists

The booklet will be edited by Brona McVittie, featuring articles by Dr Ruth Williams, Dr Kat Arney, Kiki von Glasow, Dr Lindsey Goff.

It will be produced and launched on Wednesday 9th March 2011 at a debate hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Arts entitled: “Are Women Changing Science?”

Many thanks to the following people for their kind contributions and advice: Mariann Bienz, Carole Collet, Anne Ferguson-Smith, Amanda Fisher, Uta Frith, Andree Molyneux and Daniela Rhodes.

red women's symbold with continents superimposed repeatd 5 times

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