Category Archives: Women in STEM

Women in STEM

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.

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Positive action in motion

What is the difference between positive action and positive discrimination?

Positive action is when an employer takes steps to help or encourage certain groups of people with different needs, or who are disadvantaged in some way, access work or training. Positive action is lawful under the Equality Act. For example, an employer could organise an open day for people from a particular ethnic background if they’re under-represented in the employer’s workforce. This wouldn’t be unlawful discrimination under the Act.” (Citizens advice 2017)

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Negative Images of Women in Geekdom: you’re either one of the lads or a target, and sometimes both.

I felt like it was time to write something for the WISDOM blog after a topical BBC article was published recently regarding feminine, sexualised AI bots such as Amazon’s Ask Alexa, or Microsoft’s Cortana, or even — as some Big Bang Theory fans may recall — Siri.

I am not going to speculate on what subtle everyday sexism might feel like to a victim, but what I can do is discuss one example of the sexualisation, and therefore depersonalisation, of women in geekdom.

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Don’t underestimate the power of WISDOM

The WISDOM Winter Networking event held on Friday 16 December in the Moore lecture theatre was the last event of 2016 and demonstrated the potential power and influence this group has. The event was opened by the Head of School – Professor Keith Mayes (School of Mathematics & ISG) and Head of Department (ISG). Professor Mayes is a strong supporter of the group and not only does he support the cause of WISDOM (to promote equality and diversity particularly focusing on women) but there is also evidence that it resonates deeper within him, that the desire of WISDOM to encourage and support it’s members is something of the upmost importance. Professor Mayes related to this from his own experiences – he explained that he had not even considered going to university until some friends encouraged him but that when he was there he noticed he lacked slightly in confidence (experiencing imposter syndrome) and relied upon the support and encouragement of his friends to overcome this. Examples such as these demonstrate the power and potential a group of people focused on one cause – supporting and encouraging each other – can have on individual members within the group and each individual the group touches.

After such a strong opener, the rest of the afternoon continued just as powerfully and we heard from the following guest speakers: Caroline Rivett KPMG; Professor Lizzie Coles-Kemp, Information Security Group, Royal Holloway, University of London; Professor Brita Nucinkis, Mathematics, Royal Holloway, University of London; & Bia Bedri KPMG.

Caroline Rivett – Cyber Security Director, Life Sciences – explained how she had felt the need to conform early on in her career due to being surrounded by white, middle class older men. As her career developed she saw the need to conform less important and realised that it was important to be herself. Sometimes different is better, if you are different you are memorable, she explained. She never wants to be defined by her gender, but rather through who she is, a unique individual, not just ‘a woman’. She expressed her frustrations of having to take a redundancy offer when she was informed that if she had a baby she would not be promoted. Consequently, any desire to conform had obviously disappeared when in her next role, she took her baby to Board meetings – creating long-lasting memories for her colleagues. Caroline’s message was clear – be yourself and don’t be scared to be different. Your differences might just be remembered.

Next up to the platform was Professor Lizzie-Coles Kemp from the ISG. Professor Coles-Kemp specialises in working with groups of people not often focused on in the Cyber Security landscape. She spoke passionately about the importance of this and her desire to forge a path ahead for others to follow. Professor Coles-Kemp clearly leads the way in her areas of research and her values of participation, inclusion, community and diversity are very clear as she discusses the work that she does. She believes that her unique standpoint in the cyber-security field and her collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach will enable a diversity of voices to be heard. This is crucial when considering how we can support the equality and diversity cause: Each voice has something to say, each voice must be heard.

Next up was Professor Brita Nucinkis who hilariously described her passion for Pure Maths as being ‘good for nothing’ and shared with us the irony when her son asked her why she was going to talk about wallpaper at a women’s conference. The wallpaper was actually linked to Professor Nucinki’s research – she finds symmetry and groups in patterns and used patterned wallpaper to describe her mathematical group theory. She took us on the journey of her career and fondly described having children along the way to ‘celebrate’. She described how she realised that it was important to build relationships with her academic community and not be stuck at home all the time with the baby. Professor Nucinkis also advocated going to events with new-born babies. ‘Ask a member of staff to put your expressed milk in the fridge for you, you’ll certainly laugh at their reaction’. Breaking down taboos, conformity and old ways of thinking are apparent here. A woman who has chosen to breastfeed should not have to be imprisoned at home just because she has chosen to go with what nature intended. Making nature more normal means being brave and bold and embracing opportunities to challenge the world around us.

Last to the stage was Bia Bedri – a driven career professional, former alumni of the Information Security MSc and current Business Partner at KPMG. Her passion and enthusiasm for work is what really shone through in her talk. She described how when she was younger all she wanted to do was play – and since realising that she had to grow up, she studied and worked hard to develop a career that she clearly loves. She strongly believes in the notion that if you don’t love what you do, why do it? It is important to do something we enjoy as we spend so much of our lives working. Bia described how she had often been discriminated against for being a woman. She used to get a lot of jokes from her peers who were male (because she was a woman in the field) even though she was the most highly qualified out of them all. She handled these situations with humour and felt like this was the best way to allow her voice to be heard.

Regardless of gender – equality and diversity is about placing value on each individual human being, not only celebrating differences but celebrating commonalities, celebrating life. Each individual has a voice and something to offer and there is untapped potential locked inside each one of us. With the right people supporting and encouraging us we can learn to become less afraid of who we are and begin to celebrate who we are. We can learn to be bold in situations that require it of us and brush aside what others think. We can listen to one another and place importance on each voice and opinion (although some may be different to our own). Once we have discovered who we really are I hope that we (both men and women) can learn to let go and enjoy the lives and careers that we have. Whether that includes looking at patterns in wallpaper, running the School of Maths & ISG or writing a blog post on WISDOM – the notion of equality and diversity means we all have something to offer.

Of course, after all of this deep deliberating, networking commenced and continuing dialogues and thoughts were washed down with some delicious mulled wine and mince pies. WISDOM runs regular speaking and networking events on gender and equality for women in the field of Maths and Information Security. Stay connected and up to date by joining the mailing list. Email: to be added. We would love to see you at our next event – get involved and join the conversation.


School Manager

School of Maths & ISG

[Left to Right] Thyla Van Der Merwe, Bia Bedri, Professor Brita Nucinkis, Professor Lizzie Coles Kemp and Sheila Cobourne.

For more pictures, please view and like our album on our WISDOM facebook page.

The Athena Swan award: here we go again…

Here we go again…

I remember an email from Siaw-Lynn with that subject line when we had failed in our second attempt to obtain accreditation from Athena Swan. Now we have made it three failed attempts out of three, and as the person who was leading the School for all three bids one might imagine that I would begin to question if the effort was worthwhile. But it is imperative to remember the importance of the equality agenda: far more important than any stamp of approval is that we continue to pursue what is right for all our staff, and continue to work for an environment that we can all feel comfortable in so that we do not let talent slip through our fingers. The agenda is worth the effort, and we should not forget that. The work of WISDOM helps the School tremendously in this regard, and it is exciting to see their plans for the coming year. There is still a job to be done, and I hope that the whole School can focus on the positive steps that we can and should take, and take some pride in what we have done already.

For more information on the Athena Swan award visit:

Professor James McKee
Head of Department (Mathematics)