Computing Services

The department behind IT services at the University of Bath

Sulis Minerva Day - from a male perspective?

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Today was Sulis Minerva Day at the University of Bath and it was spectacular. From the Vice-Chancellor's welcome and introduction, keynote lectures from inspiring leaders (who happen to be female), lively panel discussion (including men and women) and insightful and challenging questions from the audience, I'm left with my head reeling from a myriad of thoughts and ideas on the challenges - and what can I do to play my (small) part in effecting the change.

In her introduction, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell rattled off a long list of engineers and scientists who were not appreciated or recognised for their achievements, because they were female in a world where males were almost universally the only ones recognised. She concluded with the challenge that it's not only about giving women the opportunity, but that society needs to focus efforts on women's impact, recognition and visibility.

Louise Kingham (is there a better bio?) asserted that women are disproportionately affected by climate change and that seeking solutions without women is like having one hand tied behind your back. She highlighted the excellent work of POWERful WOMEN, which "showcases women in the energy sector", Solar Sister, which "eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity", and the Women Barefoot Solar Engineers, who supply "their communities with clean, low-cost household lighting from solar energy".

Professor Dame Linda Partridge showed us the science behind Ageing Healthily, that women invariably hold the records for longevity, and that dietary restriction (stop eating so much) and exercise (at least do some!) are the key to living longer, but that it is very difficult to get people to change. Depressingly (in my opinion), her conclusions were that we need to develop safe anti-ageing drugs since 'people will swallow anything' - I'd like to hope that we can all play our part to make it a societal norm to eat less and exercise more.

I'm a long-time follower (on Twitter, not a stalker) of Professor Dame Athene Donald, and it was my great pleasure to have a few minutes this morning to introduce myself to her. She was awarded an honorary degree today from the University, and followed this with her keynote lecture, "Do I look like a physicist?" She delivered, with great eloquence, her career history where it was evident she wasn't only a physicist but was claimed by the audience as a materials scientist, a plant scientist and a chemist!

For me though, the take-home message of her talk was, "If you get a chance for media training, take it - you never know when a microphone will be stuck under in your face."

The panel discussion, "Pioneers & Pathways: Shaping the future in STEM", was chaired by Professor Carole Mundell and the panel comprised: Dawn Bonfield, Simon Cooper, Dr Patrick Goymer, Dr Emily Grossman, and Professor Melanie Welham. In a wide-ranging discussion the overriding theme for me was how to encourage and inspire women into science - and how much of the problem is due to teachers, parents and society discouraging girls at an early age, overtly or as a result of unconscious bias?

One of the questions from the audience asked, "If we get more women into roles this will negatively affect (mediocre) men - is that OK?" To which the panel unanimously agreed but remember there's a huge skills shortage and we need to ensure that we act in a non-threatening manner. The Chair noted that there's a web tool (this one: http://www.tomforth.co.uk/genderbias/) that checks for gender bias in references. Have a go and see if your references are gender-biased (unconsciously, of course).

The panel also discussed topics relating to flexible working, and whether getting more women into (leadership) roles requires men to play their part by taking up parental leave, part-time and job share opportunities. It made me wonder: if "diverse teams deliver the best decisions", perhaps we need to get more leadership roles to be appointed as job shares, so the role itself is a diverse position?

Off to check on the gender diversity in my own department, Computing Services. Well, tomorrow - after all, need to keep up the work-life balance, get more exercise and eat less...

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