12 November 2010
By Marouan Zarrouk
Firstly, I want to congratulate the organisers for a vibrant and stimulating conference. Secondly, I would like to apologise for the delayed blog entry (things have been manic).
The workshop that I had led focussed on the support mechanisms for equality and diversity in STEM professions. Jennifer Woolley, who is the Chief Executive of the Daphne Jackson Trust, told us about her organisation’s activities. The Daphne Jackson Trust provides a returner’s scheme for people, who have had a career break of at least two years. It mainly, but not exclusively, supports female STEM professionals - ~97% of uptakers are women. The Trust’s work is very successful in supporting the return of STEM professional to return into work - at about a success rate of 96%, may this be into either academia or industry. It has awarded already 212 fellowships. Interesting about the Trust is that it provides a scheme for skill development within the frame of a research project in the area of expertise of the fellow. This is provided for two years. Yet, applicants must secure the funding as the Trust does not provide these; however, they take on the arrangement of fellowships and, therefore, help the returner into her/his career. The fellowships are individually sponsored and the sponsors may vary from academic instutions/organisations to industry. The application process is peer-reviewed meaning that the applicant is assessed on the remits of her/his application by experts. Yet, there it does not stop. The Trust also provides a complete network of mentoring, support and assistance, which the fellow can access, in order to ensure that the successful applicant can smoothly return into and pursue a career.
I believe that this is a great way of returning into a career for women, but also men, who have taken a career break for any reason. It clearly keeps the opportunity to return into a career once other obligations or circumstances have cleared. Clearly, professional fulfilment can be achieved at any stage with mechanisms and support like this.
Rukhsana Rahim Din, who is the co-ordinator for the ‘Connect’ project at UKRC, talked about the lack of female professionals, i.e. the low presentation of females, in STEM professions. With Rukhsana, we discussed reasons for why significantly less women take STEM professions than men – note, that these differences may vary between fields and biological sciences/life sciences have a relatively higher percentage of female professionals compared to related domains. Reasons that crystallised during the discussion included that this lack could be related to a lack of confidence in women to go and apply for jobs in STEM and that training/education has to be designed and is required in a way that more women build up the confidence required to pursue a career in STEM. One aspect included that women might think of that their repertoire of skills does not fit the job’s requirement; therefore, undervaluing their own capabilities, whilst men would apply for jobs even if they do not fit the job’s requirement. This clearly has to change to promote women in STEM professions. Interestingly, there seem to be cultural differences in the penetrance of women in STEM professions across Europe. Whilst the UK ranges in the midfield, Eastern European countries are placed in the top range of the list of having females in STEM professions across all levels – however, this does not exceed more than 20-25 % either. Therefore, mechanisms are required and should be provided to increase the number of females in STEM professions. In this respect, UKRC provides a support scheme to overcome, which is fully free of charge – apart from coaching programmes, which are funded by UKRC. This support scheme helps women to get back into STEM profession.
Overall, this workshop was very stimulating as it highlighted that there support mechanisms that help women to return and/or pursue a career in STEM professions. It also highlighted that the education of women should not only include the academic sites but should also thrive the attitude towards how to thrive professionally without being put off from a male-dominated environment.
With best wishes,
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