WISDOM’s London Universities Women in STEM Day

On June 1st 2017, WISDOM’s London Universities Women in STEM Day was held at the London Mathematical Society in Russell Square, London . The event aimed to connect groups and individuals in London working towards the goal of promoting women in STEM, with interesting speakers from both academia and industry. (Speaker biographies can be seen here.) The event aimed to act as a forum to share ideas, to discuss hurdles and to network; we hoped each attendee would leave with some new ideas they could implement in their workplace and some new contacts.

Selected presentations from the day can be seen here.

Session 1

The speakers in the first session came from a range of universities across London, and the session highlighted the importance of a diverse workforce with differing experiences that leads to better solutions. A common theme was that at certain stages of girls’ educational careers something goes wrong which puts girls off Science and Tech careers: this has an ongoing impact in higher education and industry. Various strategies to address this were discussed.

The first speaker, Prof. Keith Mayes (Royal Holloway, University of London) discussed the gender imbalance in Information Security and actions that have been embedded into School Management processes to support female staff and students. These include demonstrating departmental inclusiveness through videos/sponsorship of Women in Crypto events and WISDOM/Maternity workload reductions. Future actions being considered are making CPD and refresher courses more easily available for returning career break professionals who may feel “out of the loop” and would like to keep in touch with the subject area. Prof. Mayes stressed that ISG’s female staff/students are of the highest quality, and voiced his support and belief in the WISDOM group.

Dr Maura Paterson (Birkbeck) then shared a short account of Athena Swan bids, followed by some effective diversity practices that have been adopted, such as ensuring that every year, everyone in the department submits their CVS, so that professors can identify who should be encouraged to apply for promotions. This works well on a number of levels, as it prompts people to really think about their career plans, update their CV and put themselves forward for opportunities as they arise. This is an example of how good practice benefits everyone, whereas poor practice disproportionately affects women. Dr Paterson then discussed how, as working at Birkbeck requires evening teaching, job adverts may attract more males, maybe through a perception that evening teaching is not family friendly. A more proactive approach to point out that this work pattern can actually be helpful for people with different lifestyles/ caring responsibilities may be beneficial. Dr Paterson also noted the importance of the personal touch in her own career and how being encouraged to apply for lectureships when she was a post-doc enabled her to make that career transition.

“Good practice benefits everyone, whereas poor practice disproportionately affects women.” – Dr. Maura Paterson.

The third speaker, Prof Robb McDonald (UCL) spoke about how, although there are a high percentage of women in UCL’s BSc and MSc courses, not many transition to PhD level. This is being addressed through a range of measures, such as “What is a PhD” talks for undergraduates, summer studentships, mentors, and highlighting the research achievements of women staff. Additionally, UCL have run very successful Women in Maths days since the 1990s, with interesting puzzles and activities that are diverse, engaging and friendly, with fantastic Maths speakers, such as Rachel Riley.

Dr Jess Wade (Imperial) discussed the importance of role models who are just a few steps ahead in their career- but that it is important not to over burden them. Dr Wade then discussed how organisational culture needs to change in order to provide an inclusive environment, and the confidence and resilience of females at undergraduate level needs to be improved. Finally, the importance of using gender neutral language was discussed. Ongoing activities at Imperial include Women@imperial week, “have your say” and unconscious bias training that is open to staff and students.

Lucy Ward (Kings) outlined the benefits of the measures taken at Kings College University of London, such as having diversity champions, flexible working and an inclusive environment, where the core hours are from 10-4 p. m. Changes have been made to the Academic promotion path to make it more transparent and unconscious bias and Imposter syndrome workshops are regularly run. A Gender Equality student fund, along with paid Equality and Diversity student ambassadors ensures that students are fully involved with the issues. Various events and prizes to encourage women into the field include the Women in Science initiative, Ada Lovelace Day, Ada Lovelace Prize, Hackathons and Women in Tech are run. One sentiment expressed through Lucy’s talk, which was met with much agreement by the audience, was that people who attend the events aren’t necessarily the ones that need to be there!

“People who attend the events aren’t necessarily the ones that need to be there!” – Lucy Ward.

Session Two

Sophia Goldberg (QMUL) discussed some of the approaches taken by WISE@QMUL. This included Women in Physics lunches, to form a support network of women. The Maternity+ Scheme allows a lecturer up to a year of support from a postdoc to keep their research going during maternity leave. Also mentioned was the project Juno and how all data output should be analysed for gender bias. Sophia discussed how, because women are in the minority, women speakers tended to be asked to speak a lot, one suggestions was to invite female speakers from Europe. WISE@QMUL advertised a coding workshop, because of this numbers of women attendees was high (40%). WISE@QMUL also organised a workshop given by Adelina Chalmers on techniques for networking, and have a video series, which aims to promote female role models.

Sheila and Swati (RHUL) from Wisdom gave the next talk. Sheila gave an overview of the Wisdom vision and what Wisdom does, such as personal skills workshops, outreach and networking events. She also mentioned the supportive environment that Wisdom encourages. Swati then gave a passionate talk on her personal experiences. She discussed how Wisdom helped her to acknowledge gender equality and talk to her employer to help improve things. Sheila then discussed some of her own experiences, including people’s reactions to her being a mature PhD student, and how imposter syndrome had affected her. The talk ended with the playing of the Wisdom video that had just been uploaded to youtube.

Wendy Goucher (Goucher Consulting) gave a talk about her lightbulb moment. She talked about her transition into the cyber security industry despite the fact that her skills are non technical. She also discussed her experience during her Masters by Research degree, for which she has recently submitted her thesis. She ended the talk with some motivational words of encouragement.

Session Three

Kiran Bhagotra (ProtectBox) discussed the gender and pay gap, particularly in computer science roles, across the UK and US. Kiran shares with us ways to help women close this gap, such as being digitally fluent and making informed career decisions. Kiran then shared three things that have helped her in her career, including ‘knowing yourself’, establishing a support network (consisting of women and men, professional and social) and giving back to the community by listening, mentoring and learning.

Sarah Britton (Nationwide) opened her talk with an interactive online quiz testing how much we knew about the number of women in STEM subjects. After awarding the winner with a bottle of champagne, Sarah went on to discuss the range of support networks used in Nationwide (such as networks focusing on disability, faith and belief, gender and working families).

Panel and Summary

Finally, there was an informal panel consisting of Dr Paterson, Prof. McDonald, Dr Wade, Wendy Goucher, Kiran Bhagotra and Sarah Britton. A number of themes were discussed, such as the importance of mentors and how to work towards diversity beyond including women: there are very few BME and LGBTQ+ in STEM and it was discussed how solutions to including women in STEM will not necessarily address this issue too.

An interesting point made during the panel was that the regularly used image of a ‘leaky pipeline’ to describe how women leave academia/STEM subjects is unhelpful: it is not everyone’s target to reach the ‘end of the pipe’ and every woman who leaves should not be classed as a ‘leak’. However, we should search for solutions to prevent women leaving due to the area being exclusive.

After all the talks, all attendees were invited to network and enjoy some wine.

The WISDOM group would like to thank everyone who attended the event and we hope you all learnt as much as we did. We left with a number of actionable points and ideas that we will be putting to good use as soon as possible.

If you want to get involved with WISDOM, please do get in touch:

Email: wisdom@rhul.ac.uk, or follow WISDOM on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.