This week celebrates World Science Day on 10 November. Working with many science clients, this is a sector close to our hearts. This date gives a chance to celebrate the incredible advancements in science, including Scotland’s achievements and ambitions in precision medicine. Rather than taking a ‘one medicine that suits all’ approach, precision medicine ensures that treatments and medicines are specifically tailored to individual patients. This powers better treatment and diagnosis, including earlier interventions, more effective medicine development and aims to prescribe the right drug, first time. As well as more successful patient outcomes and lower health risks, precision medicine means massive cost savings for the NHS.
There are many other positive examples of science achievements. However on a less positive note, this sector suffers from a massive underrepresentation of women at a senior level in both academia and industry. Confirming the already ample evidence that more diverse teams produce better results, Black Rock has recently reported that companies with more gender balanced teams outperform their least balanced peers by as much as two percentage points. Women make up half of the scientific workforce, yet only 26 percent of CEOs are female. This dearth of women at the top is a key challenge for the industry. I think it is also a great opportunity.
We recently gathered a group of female leaders in science to discuss how this opportunity could be unlocked. Several themes and issues emerged, including visibility (or lack) of senior female role models. Having such role models seems key, both in encouraging others at a senior level to step up and to build a pipeline of future female leaders. Although figures are improving, last year only three out of ten students on core STEM courses were female, showing there is still more work to be done.
Led by Glasgow City of Science & Innovation, Scotland’s CAN DO Innovation Summit takes place today, a landmark calendar event focused on unlocking innovation for SMEs. Importantly, the sold-out event launches with an all female keynote line up, and has a deliberately diverse range of speakers and chairs. Dr Susie Mitchell, Programme Director for Glasgow City of Science & Innovation, advises building diversity into events right from the outset to help ensure appropriate representation.
However this is not as easy as it sounds, so all credit to Glasgow City of Science & Innovation. In my experience women are more reluctant to participate in speaking and panel opportunities, even when they are well equipped and more than qualified to do so. There are several factors at play here in my opinion, not least the gender difference in attitude to risk. There is also the fear of women being perceived as getting a bit too big for their boots or heaven forbid, being seen as a bit “bossy”.
Bossy or not, we plan to continue to build this network of senior women in science. This will provide a community to share experiences, best practice and support each other, with the ultimate aim of increasing senior female leaders in science. The inaugural group gathered were hugely positive and enthusiastic about the opportunity to champion others, so unlock more of this valuable untapped potential. Scotland has a thriving science community, and we would love to hear from others who are keen to get involved.
World Science Day is a great reminder of all the brilliant achievements and the positive impact of science on our health, society and economy. Just think what else we could do with almost half as much potential again?
Julie Moulsdale, Managing Director of Perceptive Communicators.