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CamAWiSE 20th Anniversary celebrations 2nd October 2014 – by Daisy Gooch,  PhD student and member of WISE@QMUL

“Last week Louise & I escaped our respective labs for an afternoon and hopped on the train to sunny Cambridge to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cambridge AWiSE. The Cambridge AWiSE network was set up in 1994 following the publication of ‘The Rising Tide’, a report published by the government on women in science, engineering and technology. This report documented the underrepresentation of women in STEMM fields- demonstrating that even where women predominate at undergraduate level, such as in the life sciences, they are lost at every career stage until they are a small minority. In 2004/5, only 11.5% of professors in life sciences were women, a figure which 10 years later has risen only to 15%. ‘The Rising Tide’ report noted the value of women’s networks and mutual support, and thus Cambridge AWiSE was founded to connect and inspire women in STEMM, which it has been doing ever since.

The first order of the day was attending a meeting of women’s networks, chaired by Anne Clarke, Anne Clarke – Business Analyst, Bloomsbury Library Management Group and vice-chair of the AWiSE steering group to discuss the challenges faced by women in STEMM, at which we were joined by Sharan, our staff advisor for WISE@QMUL. Key issues raised included existence of the gender pay gap- despite the 1972 Equal Pay legislation. It was mentioned that in circumstances where pay rises and promotions must be applied for, women are less likely to put themselves forward and so miss out, which I found interesting. Lesson learned here: have the confidence to ask for what you want! We also discussed how beyond degree level a big problem is the retention of women in STEMM. Flexible and part-time working needs to become more acceptable and more easily available. A recent survey by Cambridge AWiSE found that 43% of respondents who had asked for a flexible working arrangement had had their proposal accepted. However, many respondents who had taken a career break found that there was a barrier to their return. These barriers included the need for retraining, the end of contracts (particularly for postdocs), lack of confidence and difficulty finding part-time work. The University of Cambridge is working to overcome these barriers by establishing a returning carers fund, available to both men and women returning to work after a career break. This fund could be used for training courses, or part time staff to maintain laboratory research, or to establish a Cambridge based collaboration with other scientists. Similarly, the British Heart Foundation is now offering Career Re-entry Research Fellowships. This type of funding has a lot of potential to aid retention of talented workers in STEMM fields who would otherwise have left STEMM altogether.
After the afternoon meeting we were treated to talks from an impressive array of speakers, beginning with an introduction and welcome by Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who was followed by a retrospective by Dr Jan Peters, one of the authors of the 2002 SETFair report on women in science, engineering and technology. Next, we were privileged to hear a set of talks from professional societies and employers in STEM: Professor Lesley Yellowlees, Immediate Past President of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh; Dr Gillian Arnold from the British Computer Society; Professor Jeremy Sanders, Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Cambridge; Dr Anne-Marie Coriat, Chair RCUK Research Group, Research Councils UK; and Dr Jasmine Fisher, of Microsoft Research Cambridge and the University of Cambridge. The presence and visibility of role models such as these in STEM fields can surely only help to raise the profile of STEM careers for women. It was a very special and inspirational evening and quite a privilege to hear successful women talk about their careers, and also to hear how initiatives like Athena Swan really are making a difference to the lives of not just women in STEM fields, but for men too. As a result of the success of this event Cambridge AWiSE are planning on running an event for women’s networks every six months, so thanks for having us, Cambridge AWise- we’ll be back!”

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