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Are we there yet? There’s still a long way to go for women in STEM

07 Mar 2018

Dr Katie Perry, Chief Executive at the Daphne Jackson Trust, on the benefits of diversity and inclusion in STEM.

The Daphne Jackson Trust welcomes the new policy review from CaSE looking at progress in diversity and inclusion in STEM.

The review rightly draws attention to the strides and progress made in diversity and inclusion in STEM in the UK over the last two decades. All of us in the sector know however, that there is no room for complacency with the UK facing a growing STEM skills shortage.

Specifically, with regards to gender equality, the review highlights the significant STEM gender skills gap, the persistent and unacceptable disparities in comparative levels of pay and career progression to senior levels between men and women (particularly subsequent to a career break), and the need for employers to fully embrace and commit to part-time working and job flexibility.

We’re proud to be part of progress made in improving diversity in STEM. We’re a unique charity working hard to support and encourage flexible working practices among STEM career break returners through our Fellowships. We play an incredibly important role in returning STEM talent back to the research workforce, however there is clearly still much for us, and the sector, to do.

The UK’s first female professor of Physics

Founded in 1992 in memory of Professor Daphne Jackson, the UK’s first female professor of Physics, our Fellowships are recognised as exemplar models for the increased retention of skilled scientists and engineers. We make a major contribution to diversity and inclusion in the UK STEM’s workforce by returning and reintegrating talented researchers after a career break, who would otherwise be lost to the sector.

Many STEM research career paths are increasingly non-linear and non-traditional. Life simply happens, people start a family, care for loved ones or are ill themselves; this should not mean that they find themselves disadvantaged and unable to re-enter their careers at a level commensurate with their skills and experience.  Many are forced to quit the research and scientific work environments until they discover the Daphne Jackson Trust and realise that there is a way to retrain and return to their career.

We offer flexible, part-time and salaried Fellowships which enable women and men to return to STEM research with confidence after a career break of two or more years, taken for reasons out of their control such as family, caring or health reasons.

Fellows undertake a challenging research project alongside an individually tailored retraining programme.  Fellowships are usually two or three years in length, and based at universities and research institutes throughout the UK.  So far, we have helped nearly 350 individuals to date return to their STEM careers; with six former Fellows reaching professorial level.

As Chief Executive of the Daphne Jackson Trust, I am continually delighted by the stories of our inspirational Fellows and how we enable them to return to STEM.  Please just take 5 minutes out, with a cup of coffee, to listen and watch for yourself, with our new YouTube film What we do and how we make a difference.  

From my own personal experience of being a physicist returning to work after maternity leave and with dealing with STEM returners who have children, there is no better training for a stressful work environment and working to deadlines than having a career break to bring up children. As anyone reading this blog who has done it will know, it sharpens multitasking and negotiation skills, the ability to deliver on time/ budget and conflict resolution skills. Having made the decision to overcome the many barriers to returning to a career, returners show a high degree of dedication, loyalty and commitment that is often not seen by other employees.

A small charity making a big difference

Ultimately progress and diversity in STEM research affects everyone and is essential as society tackles the big challenges of the 21st century such as climate change, medicine, AI, big data and agritech to name just a few.

There will always be a battle to retain and increase diversity in STEM and, despite any amount of legislation, the landscape faced by STEM researchers, notably the progression of women onto senior positions will not change overnight.

There are however many organisations like us campaigning to improve the situation such as the Equality Challenge Unit and its Athena SWAN charter, the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Wellcome Trust, so that all groups in STEM are able to make their full contribution to UK plc, to the benefit of all of us.

We’re grateful to CaSE for encouraging this debate further and including the Daphne Jackson Trust in its proposals for change.

To read more about the Daphne Jackson Trust, visit their website

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