The past few decades have seen a substantial and positive shift in attitudes towards women in science and engineering.  And yet, they continue to face an uphill struggle against ingrained attitudes and actions that create barriers to having a full, rewarding, equitable, and respected career in fields encompassed by science, technology, engineering and math.

Athene Donald – a long-time advocate of women in science, and Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory – recently suggested that people commit to “taking one action, just one, in their local organisation to counter the local brand of disadvantage that women may be facing.”

Athene went on to suggest a (non-exhaustive) list of actions that she encourages people to commit to (below).  It’s a good list, and one that I will be acting on as well as encouraging others to.

Athene is further encouraging people to show their commitment by using the hashtag #just1action4WIS on Twitter. It would be great to see the #just1action4WIS commitment gain traction – not only on Twitter, but more importantly, in everyday actions and attitudes.


Counter the “local brand” of disadvantage women in science around you may be facing

• Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimised;

• Encourage women to dare, to take risks;

• Act as a sponsor or mentor (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act);

• Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or acting to exclude anyone;

• Seek out and remove microinequities wherever you spot them;

• Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of female invited speakers;

• Consider the imagery in your department and ensure it represents a diverse group of individuals;

• Consider the daily working environment to see if anything inappropriate is lurking. If so, do something about it.

• Demand/require mandatory unconscious bias training, in particular for appointment and promotion panels;

• Call out teachers who tell girls they can’t/shouldn’t do maths, physics etc;

• Don’t let the bold (male or female) monopolise the conversation in the classroom or the apparatus in the laboratory, at the expense of the timid (female or male);

• Ask schools about their progression rates for girls into the traditionally male subjects at A level (or indeed, the traditionally female subjects for boys);

• Nominate women for prizes, fellowships etc;

• Tap women on the shoulder to encourage them to apply for opportunities they otherwise would be unaware of or feel they were not qualified for;

• Move the dialogue on from part-time working equates to ‘isn’t serious’ to part-time working means balancing different demands;

• Recognize the importance of family (and even love) for men and women;
Be prepared to be a visible role model;

• Gather evidence, data and anecdote, to provide ammunition for management to change;

• Listen and act if a woman starts hinting there are problems, don’t be dismissive because it makes you uncomfortable;

• Think broadly when asked to make suggestions of names for any position or role.

(source: Athene Donald – also downloadable as a PDF and JPEG)

Of course, equity in science and engineering goes far beyond gender equality.  There remain substantial challenges around ethnicity, sexual orientation, perceived disability, and similar areas.  Hopefully, as awareness grows around the importance of eliminating gender inequality, these and other areas will be taken equally seriously.

Update: As I noted, Athene’s list isn’t exhaustive.  I’ll be adding other good suggestions I receive here:

• Accept the possibility that others are being treated differently than you, even by “enlightened” colleagues/teachers

Feature image:White House Science Fair 2014. Girl Scout troop 2612 members from Tulsa, OK take photos of one another with Google Glass at the White House Science Fair Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Source: NASA

Note: Links updated June 19 2015