Archive for February, 2007|Monthly archive page

Week 4: Online database searching

The OU has an excellent tutorial known as Safari relating to finding, organising and evaluating information. Guest access is permitted, although I am not certain how much of the site is available to non-OU students.

We are supposed to search for articles of relevance to women’, ‘science’, ‘technology’, ‘careers’, ‘career break’, ‘gender’ and ‘work’ and share one with the tutor group along with our explanation of why we felt it was worth reading.

I chose to search for women* AND science AND career* which gave me 121 hits to wade through and resulted in 29 articles I thought worth further investigation. I regard this as manageable, but also refined the list by the addition of tradition* which narrowed things down to 11 articles.

The article I was most interested in isn’t available in the OU library: Chemical & Engineering News is a journal put out by the American Chemical Society, and is available online.

Marasco, C A (2005) Mentornet supports women in science Chem. Eng. News 83 v.20: 55-56, 58, 60.

There are many barriers to women’s success in traditional male-dominated careers, such as science, maths and engineering. A global electronic mentoring network, MentorNet, has been working to alleviate these issues by pairing female graduates and undergraduates in these disciplines with mentors from industry, government and academia.

Mentornet was founded in 1997 by Carol B. Muller, formerly associate dean of engineering at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. At Dartmouth College, she co-founded a Women in Science Project and was instrumental in setting up an e-mentoring scheme linking about 40 students with mentors. After leaving the college to move to California she put together a national advisory group, obtained grant money from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Intel, and created a strategic and business plan. Mentornet now has 14 000 members, and about 2/3 of the mentors are women.
Benefits to mentees include the obvious one of support from their mentor, but also:

…strategies for studying and stress and time management, as well as career management.

Mentornet appears to focus mostly on providing mentors for students, but:

…the program will continue to expand to include all underrepresented groups and increase the number of people who participate. Other plans include developing auxiliary services, such as a registry of women faculty in science and engineering to complement the existing résumé database, adding a professional résumé database, and forging mentoring programs that might serve more early-career and other professionals.

In the UK, the Resource Centre for Women in SET offers a similar scheme which appears to be more widely applicable.


Week 4: Women in SET (career breaks)

For this part of the course, we are provided with two audio programs featuring interviews with women who have taken career breaks and successfully returned to SET.

Only one features a woman in a similar situation to mine: she did several post-docs, married a cameraman and worked with him, got divorced, and returned to research through a fellowship from the Daphne Jackson Trust. As I’m not planning to go back to the bench at this stage, and have already been down the route of starting my own business, none of the suggestions for getting back into the workforce provided in these programs are likely to be of use to me.

Reading around the topic again:

From the Royal Society of Chemistry website (members only section)

Knowledge and skills

You will find returning to work after your break very difficult if you have not kept your knowledge and skills up to date. In today’s job market, even a short break can leave you out of touch and less attractive to employers unless you can demonstrate up-to-date knowledge of current practice.

  • Keep in touch with colleagues at your former workplace – meet up with them socially to discuss developments
  • Are there any opportunities for part-time or freelance work? Consider editing and proof reading papers and publications, working limited hours or covering holiday and sick leave
  • Continue to read journals, newspaper articles, books and magazines to stay with your specialist area of expertise – use the RSC’s Library and Information Centre to reduce this expense.
  • Keep up your membership of the RSC and subject groups.
  • Consider what networking opportunities you have

Information sources
Identify information sources to help you research and stay in touch with the job market:

  • Use business directories such as Kompass to obtain information about companies and what they are doing
  • Contact companies and education institutions directly and ask for information – annual reports are a useful source
  • Request information about specific jobs even if you do not intend to make a formal application. Most applications will provide you with a job description and a person specification. You can keep track of what skills are valued in the employment market

Now those are suggestions that I can and will follow up on!

Week 4: Women in SET (that’s me II)

I’ve been reading around the subject a little, and have come up with some slightly less academic sources:

From comes a very good article (published in 2003) titled What does it take for Women to stay in Academic Chemistry?. The gist of the response is:

Little more, it seems, than openness, friendliness, support from both their peers and superiors, and good management. “The most important finding to support best practice is that the best departments have almost no measures targeted at women,” says Coe. “It is the culture that is supportive of all staff and of diversity. And there, men and women are thriving.”

It may not be a pure coincidence that the two most women-friendly departments in the study were led by young heads who were themselves halves of dual-career couples with children. In these departments, not only is a healthy work-life balance encouraged, but there is also no assumption that women who want to have a family are not committed.

In addition, the article adds a well-placed note of caution regarding changes targeted specifically at women:

…if gender measures may raise the number of women in the short term, they also present the “danger of reinforcing these barriers” in the longer term, says Coe. For a start, they could buttress stereotypical attitudes towards women’s careers in science. Indeed, if women were, say, granted enough flexibility to switch between research and lecturing relative to family commitments, for example, the emphasis on research excellence in academia means that women would be further marginalised. Furthermore, women-targeted measures may raise the barriers to a full-time academic career. For instance, while some departments have raised salaries to help with childcare costs, this extra money has to come from departmental resources, and women fear it may increase the pressures within a department and in the end make it a less female-friendly place to work.

And, from the Royal Society of Chemistry comes an article first published in Chemistry World in 2005 “Ambitious women scientists held back.

The researchers discovered that 36 per cent of female senior lecturers have ambitions to become a member of senior management, compared with 29 per cent of male senior lecturers. And 68 per cent of female professors wish to become head of a research group, compared with 49 per cent of their male counterparts. However, the data show that a higher proportion of men than women actually go on to key, high profile roles and responsibilities.

Part of the problem seems to be that women are often not encouraged to advance their careers in science.

I have been dismayed on reading many of these articles. I had thought (a fairly common belief, it seems) that feminism had fought and won its major battles years ago. I will be more aware, and more proactive, in future.

Week 4: Women in SET – that’s me (I)

Make a list of the strategies aimed at attracting women back into the workforce suggested by the Government response to the Greenfield Report and in the Conclusions and Recommendations section of the Maximising Returns report.

The strategy implemented by the Government is detailed in a previous post.

The Maximising Returns report suggests the following:

Overall “…a key issue is the extent to which SET employers can change their working practices to accommodate work-life balance practices for the five to ten years when employees’ children are young.”

More specifically:

  1. Government should intervene to provide both industry- and academic-focussed approaches to facilitate the return of women to SET. These schemes should provide technical training and reskilling as well as funding for specific research posts via the relevant research councils. Any scheme should be flexible, and promoted both nationally and locally so as to reach the maximum possible number of potential beneficiaries. Some sort of monitoring scheme should be built in, and best practice should be identified and incorporated at all stages.
  2. In industry, line managers should be made aware of the business case for flexibility and diversity in the workforce. Current opportunities in SET, particularly non-traditional careers, should be more widely publicised in an effort to attract and retain more SET graduates (not just returners). All involved should be made aware of the negative impact of stereotyping by gender.
  3. Schemes aimed at returners should do more to match returners with potential employers and should provide returners with access to a database of likely employers.
  4. Consideration should be given to the provision of Government funds to academic laboratories for the recruitment of a ‘head of laboratory’ which could be part-time. This position would allow the returner to bring their skills and knowledge up to date over a fixed-term (3 – 5 year) appointment, and would provide for a steady flow of returners as each one moved on to a more permanent post.
  5. Grant conditions should be reviewed in order to eliminate unintentional discrimination e.g. those designed to help at the start of a career are often age-limited and would therefore exclude someone who had taken a career break.
  6. Unions and other professional organisations should provide support to individuals who are seeking to change working practice to accommodate specific work-life balance issues. This is particularly relevant if a sector is seen to be slow in adopting modern work-life balance practices.
  7. Small and medium-sized enterprises will require specialist help which could be provided by business support intermediaries (presumably this is Business Gateway and similar) in terms of identifying local skills requirements and publicising local opportunities.

Interestingly, according to this report I am not considered likely to return to SET. They define a likely returner as:

…a person with a first degree in a SET subject who had begun a career in a SET occupation but who was not currently using their qualifications and experience in the labour market and who would consider returning to a SET occupation.

Ah well, someone else to prove wrong!

Which of these strategies do you think are relevant to you?

Of the Government proposals, I am currently benefiting from the establishment of the Resource Centre, and from the provision of funds for the OU course aimed at women returners. I do feel that these should be more widely publicised, perhaps during all SET degree and postgraduate courses, so that if women do take a career break they are aware of the options available to them.

Having access to a list of potential employers, or even a list of employers who are known to be less hide-bound than is the norm in SET, would be a help.


Week 4: Women in SET (resources)

The Resource Centre

There is a UK Resource Centre for women in SET – set up as a result of the recommendations in the Greenfield report, I presume.

Part of this week’s activities is to explore the site for information of relevance.

I’m finding the site difficult to navigate: the search function simply gives a list of hits without any context, and it can be tricky to work out where you are in a subject tree. It’s a Government department, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The website of the Scottish Office is similarly arcane. That said, there is a lot of good information, and the possibility of applying to join a mentoring scheme as well as to ask for specific help and advice, so I will be going back to the site over the next few days.

We are supposed to find a discussion area specific to this course, which I have done. I can’t see anything of relevance there at all, but perhaps it will become clearer in time.

Professional Bodies

We’re also supposed to contact any relevant professional associations if they appear to have networks or subgroups of interest to women in SET. I’m a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and they have a Women’s Network as well as a local Section for Edinburgh and South East Scotland. The Edinburgh section doesn’t appear to have any activities scheduled on the RSC website, and my request for information on the next Women’s Network event in Cumbria has also resulted in dead silence. I will try old technology next, and telephone.

One unfortunate feature of the RSC is that their ‘career break’ category of membership only applies to those:

The RSC offers a reduced rate of membership for up to 7 years for those members taking a career break to bring up a young family and not receiving any income from the chemical sciences (in the sense that the subscription no longer qualifies for income tax relief) – contact our Membership Administration for more details.

My next step is to investigate the Biochemical Society as my PhD was awarded in that field. We will see if they are any better at responding to emails….

March 9th and finally a response from the Biochemical Society:

“The career break membership is only available to existing members you cannot actually join at
this level, it is also only available for one year.”

Week 4: Women in SET (how do we keep them there?)

Sir Gareth Roberts undertook a review of the supply of scientists and engineers for the UK Government in 2001. The review was published in 2002:
SET for success: The supply of people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills’.

According to the course notes, points raised by the report of particular relevance to women were:

  1. the shortage of women in post-16 and higher education choosing to study SET subjects
  2. the need for better job design in order to allow more flexible working
  3. the use of short-term contracts, which make career planning difficult – this was identified as a significant factor in discouraging women from entering scientific careers.

Something which I find sad and a little worrying is the assumption made by both the report and the course notes:

SET employment seems to offer less flexibility to employees than other areas of work and so was unattractive to women who need more flexibility in their working practice because of their multiple responsibilities.

We’ve come a long way since the time when every woman was expected to be one of the Stepford Wives, and instructed to greet her husband at the door with a clean ribbon in her hair, the children safely in bed, and fresh makeup on. We’ve quite clearly not come far enough.

In January 2002, Baroness Susan Greenfield was asked to prepare a separate report specifically to look into the shortage of women in SET. SET Fair: A Report on Women in Science, Engineering and Technology was published later that year.

Baroness Greenfield chose to focus on three key career stages:

Firstly, for those starting out, balancing decisions about family or career break with a sustained publication record or gaining experience for career development.

Secondly, being appropriately represented in mid-career on grant panels, on key administration committees and gaining enough management and organisational strategic planning experience.

Thirdly, there was the issue of breaking through the now-notorious glass ceiling.

The report gives a long list of ‘what women perceive to be the problem’ and two in particular resonate with me:

having to work against the perceptions of what women want and what women can do

women having to work harder to convince and persuade their managers that they want and need more responsibility which they see being given to their male colleagues

Every day and all the time, even in this non-scientific role, I am faced with people (mostly men, but not exclusively) who cannot accept that a woman can be an equal partner in business, or that a ‘young girl’ (of 30!) could take on a project of this size and succeed. “Where is my family, my desire to have children, my traditional role as wife?”

Suggestions made in the Greenfield Report which I believe are of relevance to my situation are:

  1. In reference to the difficulty faced by women in returning to SET after a break

…funding should be allocated to enable SETqualified women to retrain and update their skills and knowledge. A fellowship scheme that allows women to study, work on a specific project within a company or undertake research to facilitate a return to academic or private sector employment is urgently needed. It is important to include an element of work experience and management training. This will build on the excellent work of the Daphne Jackson Trust.

I had never heard of the Trust and went looking. It is based at the University of Surrey in Guildford, and the site does terrible things to my internet browser.

  • In relation to the lack of women in senior management posts across the field:

The pool of women with SET qualifications and experience as well as core management skills for senior positions needs to be expanded in order to ensure more women get to senior positions. Large corporations may offer these programmes, but women employed in smaller organisations may not have access to the right training. A high flyer training programme with women drawn from employers and professional institutions will deliver core skills for middle managers to prepare them for senior roles .

Yes, please! I have learned my management techniques by watching senior management at previous jobs: notably my PhD supervisor who was also Dean of the faculty; and the head of IT in the pensions office where I worked after graduating. The head of IT was female, and and extremely effective manager. I owe her a large debt of gratitude for providing me with a model of what management should be like.

Muddling along here as a self-employed hotelier, one of my great frustrations has been the need to learn everything the hard way. There is no-one to learn from, and even when I find a successful way of achieving my aims, I always wonder if there isn’t a better, more effective approach that I’m simply unaware of.

  • To address the fact that women, who are affected by scientific knowledge and science-based policy decisions

A science, engineering and technology advisory panel to the Chief Scientific Advisor to meet, discuss and be consulted on key scientific issues of the day.

The Baroness suggested that this should become gender-balanced within three years, from a starting position of 75% women.

I would love to be involved in something like this: not necessarily because I would provide a female perspective, but because I enjoy the challenge of translating current scientific jargon from the heights of nerdlandia into language which conveys the information accurately to those who have only a basic understanding of science.

The UK Government responded to the Greenfield report with its own strategy:

  1. A new resource centre aimed at supporting, advising and working with SET employers and professional bodies; raising the profile of women in SET; running an expert women’s database; producing good practice guides; and developing a means of recognising good SET employers. The centre will draw on the experience of women and women in science organisations to do this, and co-ordinate their activity to achieve critical mass.
  2. Pump-priming funds held by the centre to support innovative pilot schemes, for example, for mentoring and networking, or to help with mobility needs. The centre will be expected to draw in private sector funds for such projects.
  3. Funds for returners to be held by the centre.
  4. Using cross-Government machinery to ensure that all Government Departments, as employers, contractors for research and agency managers, are good SET employers.
  5. A new independent implementation group to oversee the strategy’s progress and impact during the next two years.
  6. A new role for the Office of Science and Technology Promoting SET for Women Unit.
  7. Improved statistical monitoring, to enable the position of women’s participation in SET to be accurately monitored and tracked.

Of these initiatives, I am currently benefiting from the creation of the Resource Centre, and I hope to benefit from a mentoring scheme in future.

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Stuck in a rut?

Kathleen has an excellent posting on her blog, Fashion Incubator, about dealing with a loss of inspiration, mojo, whatever.  It’s aimed at creative types, but I think it has a lot to say to the rest of us as well.

Have a look.