Three female presidents: Work together to help women “reach the top in science”

13 May 2014

For the first time, three female presidents lead the Society of Biology, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics. On 13th May 2014 this will be celebrated by the presidents coming together at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester.

Three female presidents: Work together to help women “reach the top in science”

The three presidents appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning, and have issued a joint statement on their aspiration to see ‘absolute equality’ for all in science:

“This is a moment to celebrate progress, but crucially to encourage today’s young scientists to push very hard to make the future genuinely equal. For an area like science where the challenges and opportunities are huge, what is needed is real diversity among scientists and absolute equality of opportunity for all to become scientists.

“At school, girls outperform boys in all three sciences at GCSE. However, girls are outnumbered five to one in A-level physics classes and, while more girls than boys study chemistry and biology at A-level, if you survey along the career ladder women progressively disappear from view. Across the UK many young women do not believe a career in science-based roles is available to them.

“We must consider that the lost opportunities here are not just for women, they are for science. We know that science has become extremely important across all sectors of the UK economy with 20 per cent of the UK’s workforce employed in science-based roles. The number is expected to rise to 7.1 million by 2030. There is a national shortage of skilled STEM workers each year, 40,000 at the most recent estimate, and we need talented women to fill these gaps.

“We need a genuine change of perspective. Science has in the past been seen as a man’s world, but this must not be perpetuated. Science is both revolutionary and progressive and just as it has to be open to all ideas it should be open to all people – Government and the scientific community must work together to provide the support needed to allow women to reach the top in science. Most importantly, we need to send a message to all young people with ambition to become scientists: they must believe in themselves and push for progress - the rewards are many.”

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell FSB FRS, President of the Society of Biology

Dr Frances Saunders, CB FREng FInstP, President of the Institute of Physics

Professor Lesley Yellowlees CBE FRSE FRSC, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Baroness Verma, Minister at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, will chair a Q+A event at MOSI today, inviting questions from science students for the three president panel.
The Rt Hon Jenny Willott MP, the Equalities Minister, sent a message of support, “The STEM disciplines are stronger when they reflect the diversity of our communities and make use of all the talent in society, so I’m delighted that for the first time ever, all three Societies are being led by female Presidents. This is a remarkable historic moment.

“I hope that today’s attendees, whether they are just starting to specialise in the sciences or are seasoned researchers, will leave feeling inspired and encouraged by the remarkable and varied careers of Presidents Rothwell, Saunders and Yellowlees. The Government is working hard to encourage more women to go into the STEM disciplines and we launched the Women in Technology and Engineering Call to Action last week, which I hope will inspire more women to follow in the three Presidents’ footsteps, so while this is the first, it won't be the last time women head up all three Societies.”

Biographies of the three Presidents:

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President of the Society of Biology since 2009, is also President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester.
She is a professor of physiology, co-chair of the Council for Science and Technology, and was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2005 for her services to science.
Dame Nancy’s current research focuses on the role of inflammation in brain disease. Her work identified the role and action of the cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1) in a range of types of brain injury. Her team is conducting clinical trials for an IL-1 inhibitor to treat strokes.

Dr Frances Saunders, President of the Institute of Physics since 2013, was Chief Executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) from 2006 to 2012. Having led Dstl through a significant time of change, overseeing the successful implementation of a £200m rationalisation programme and growing Dstl’s turn-over from £360m to over £600m, she took early retirement from the Civil Service in March 2012.
Frances has been a member of Cranfield University Council since 2007 and was a member of the Industry Advisory Panel to the Cockroft Institute from 2009-12. She received a CB in the 2011 birthday honours.

Professor Lesley Yellowlees, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry since 2012, completed five years as Head of the School of Chemistry at Edinburgh and as Director of EaStCHEM (the joint research school of the universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews) in 2010. Currently she is Vice Principal and Head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh.
Her current research interests are inorganic electrochemistry and spectroelectrochemistry, epr spectroscopy, synthesis and characterisation of potential solar energy dyes, utilisation of CO2, public engagement of science and promoting women in science.

She was awarded a CBE in 2014 for services to science.

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