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The Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt

Women in Science - the 10th Anniversary of the Daphne Jackson Trust

The Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt

Surrey University


Monday, January 21, 2002


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Thank you, Vice Chancellor.

As the Cabinet Minister for Science and for Women, and as a life long campaigner for women's rights, I am absolutely delighted to be here today.

The aims of the Daphne Jackson Trust are very close to my heart.

Over the last ten years the Trust has made a very real difference for women in science – helping women regain their confidence, update their skills and balance their work and family commitments.

Your success is a remarkable achievement – based I know on the hard work and dedication of a few individuals.

Happy tenth birthday and may I wish you many happy – and profitable - returns.

Our aim is for a productive, dynamic economy and a society in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

The Trust's focus on helping women to return to science supports this.

It's important for women – empowering them to seek personal and professional fulfilment.

It is important for our society, because we need scientific research to reflect the concerns and priorities of women as well as men.

It's important for our economy – because new products and services, new jobs and wealth come from our science base.

And it's important for business – because an engineering and technology industry dominated by men is only using half the available talent and creativity.

So the work of the Trust – and Daphne Jackson's vision - should be loudly applauded.

But we still have a long way to go in improving working conditions and equal opportunities for women, particularly in the fields of science, engineering and technology.

Today I am publishing a report – called "Maximising Returns" - which provides a comprehensive analysis of these issues.

This shows that around 50,000 women science, engineering and technology graduates are not working at any one time – a large pool of unused talent. And of those who do return to work, only a third return to jobs which utilise their expertise.

The report should provide valuable input to Sir Gareth Roberts' review of the provision of skilled scientists and engineers in the UK. Increasing the number of women returners would go some way to strengthening the supply of scientists and engineers for business, universities and the public sector.

The recommendations will also inform the review of business support schemes I am conducting in DTI.

To take one example, the Teaching Company Scheme, which matches up skilled graduates with businesses, is only applicable at present for recent graduates – thereby excluding most women returners. Extending the scheme to women returners would provide an opening for women to return to work in science and engineering and give businesses skilled expertise.

Many mothers want to work but can't find science, engineering or technology jobs with the flexible working arrangements they need to meet their responsibilities as parents. We are taking a number of measures to help all parents find working arrangements which suit their needs.

Last week we also launched a special work-life balance challenge fund to support flexible working in the IT, telecomms and the electronics industries. Up to 1 million will be available; helping to address the under-representation of women in IT – and to help address the skills shortage in this sector.

Over recent years we have made progress on recruitment of women to science and engineering. Evidence from the Maximising Returns report and elsewhere highlights that we must now step up our efforts on retention, returners and recognition of women's achievement and contribution to science and engineering.

I can announce today a number of ways in which we will do so.

First, the Promoting SET (Science Engineering and Technology) for Women unit at the Office of Science and Technology.

The Unit – Jan, her predecessor Caroline, and their team - have worked tirelessly to promote women in science. I want them to continue to do so.

This is a long term issue, where we need sustained effort to deliver change. So we will continue to support the Unit – originally established as a short term project - to take forward this work over the next five years.

Second, we will be providing core funding for the Women in Science and Engineering – or WISE – campaign for the next three years.

And third, we will be funding a pilot mentoring scheme for women scientists and engineers to help all women, but particularly returners. I'm delighted that this is bringing together employers and networking organisations.

This is a first step in developing stronger links between some of the organisations in this area, like the Women's Engineering Society and the Association of Women in Science and Engineering.

The mentoring scheme is supported by Ford, HSBC, BAe Dynamics, Astra Zeneca and Alstom Power. These companies recognise the benefits of mentoring for their own employees and now wish to extend these to more women scientists and engineers.

This initiative will complement the work we are doing to establish an extensive network of Science and Engineering Ambassadors, seconded from industry, who will act as role models and mentors in schools across the country.

These initiatives will, I believe, make a difference. But we need to increase the momentum and maximise the impact of these activities.

Whilst we have a number of excellent small initiatives, I am concerned by the lack of significant progress, the low number of women professors and the lack of recognition given to women in science.

I believe we must pursue a more aggressive, joined up strategy to increase the participation of women in science and engineering.

To drive this forward I have invited Baroness Susan Greenfield to lead a new high level group to report with a strong strategy by June this year.

The group will report to me on how we can pull together the various existing initiatives and provide more focused action to improve recruitment, retention and recognition of women.

Today I am announcing another, practical step to raise the profile of women's contribution to science.

Next year is the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of DNA. If you ask someone who discovered DNA, the chances are they'll say Francis Crick and James Watson – two men. But in fact their work could not have been completed without the research conducted by a woman, Rosalind Franklin.

It was Rosalind Franklin, using pioneering x-ray diffraction images, who made the breakthrough finding that DNA had all the characteristics of a helix.

Crick later admitted that "I'm afraid we always used to adopt – let's say a patronising attitude to her".

Rosalind Franklin's work laid the way for the most exciting area of scientific discovery over the last fifty years – culminating in the human genome project, which promises to continue to produce huge advances over the next fifty years.

It's time we gave Rosalind Franklin the due recognition she deserves. And in doing so, provide a role model for women to consider careers in science.

So I intend to establish, through the Royal Society, the Rosalind Franklin Medal - an annual financial award to a researcher following in Franklin's tradition of the best scientific innovation, breakthrough or development.

The competition will be open to men and women but I hope the annual award will be used to raise the profile of women in science. I also very much hope that businesses will be interested in associating themselves with what promises to be a high profile, prestigious award.

And I'm delighted the Royal Society is being proactive in increasing the number of nominations for the Fellowship from women scientists.

I've talked about recruitment, retention and recognition of women in science. Finally, there is one other area I think is important: science should reflect women's priorities and views. More effort needs to be devoted to looking at the impact of science on women's lives.

Women have lower levels of confidence in science than men - both as participants in doing the science and using the applications of science. We should not ignore that women may have different priorities for science funding than men and we should endeavor to include this in our policy making process.

We are on the brink of exciting developments in science which will affect everyone's lives.

Mapping of the human genome will unlock new cures for disease. New technology will enable us to clean up the pollution created by previous industrial revolutions. Improvements in forensic science will enable us to crack down on crime.

Such developments open exciting opportunities which can bring huge benefits for everyone. But they also carry potential risks which can cause understandable concerns for people. Without public trust their benefits can not be realised.

The Daphne Jackson Trust has provided support and inspiration for many women in Britain to play their part in science over the last ten years. I wish you every success in continuing to do so over the next ten years.


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