Celebrating International Women's Day 2024

Celebrating International Women's Day 2024
8 March 2024
This year, we sat down with Lavanya, Specialist Biomedical Scientist in Cellular Pathology and member of the IBMS EDI Working Group, to discuss International Women's Day.

Do you think our profession supports women in the laboratory/workplace?

The Biomedical Scientist profession has evolved to create an inclusive and supportive work environment for women, and rightly so. The legislation outlined in the Equality Act 2010, promotes gender equality in the workplace and protects women from discrimination. Some of the known key aspects of this legislation are the prohibition of direct discrimination and indirect discrimination, equal pay, harassment, and pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

One of the other interesting areas which workplaces are now focusing on is ‘Positive Action’, addressing under-representation or disadvantage based on protected characteristics, such as gender. In light of this, I have seen employers and trusts take on recruitment and training initiatives, with the aim to increase diversity and equality in the workplace.


How do you think the profession can work to improve support for women?

Good question, initiatives are already being taken by trusts to provide supportive work environments. There is more information and guidance on women’s health, for example, women experiencing menopausal symptoms now have access to the NHS Menopause Improvement Programme. As a result, managers can support their staff who no longer suffer in silence, and negative work impact is minimised. Other areas the profession can look at for improving support for women’s health are for conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS and period pain.

Workplaces are also now starting to look at ways to provide equity for women of underrepresented ethnic backgrounds and lower socio-economic backgrounds to aid with career progression. An example of such a programme I came across was the NHS Leadership Academy Stepping Up programme, aimed at BAME and aspiring leaders. I learned through this programme that staff often don’t apply for positions due to imposter syndrome, lack of representation, or confidence. The programme gave valuable insight into leadership roles and key skills to help overcome barriers and self-limiting beliefs.

Having such programmes also increases diversity in the workplace. For instance, initially, in my career, I did not see much representation of women at directorate level or in managerial roles. I assumed a career at this level for women would be difficult, especially if they must balance having a family with work. Likewise, I did not see representation of ethnic staff at senior level or above. However, now, 10 years later, I work with and am surrounded by inspiring women of diverse backgrounds in leadership roles, a positive change that proves that with the right support, factors like gender, age and ethnicity don’t affect ability.   

Providing staff with training opportunities also comes with limitations, and these need to be addressed. Organisations should recognise the need for protected study time and understand how difficult it is for working parents or carers to study at home. Career progression in biomedical science requires long-term commitment via the completion of further qualifications. This has a long-term impact on work-life balance and health. The time a lab can provide in a person's career will be repaid later. This could also help reduce staff turnover, based on the training offered. It has been proven that happy staff = better patient outcomes.


Can you tell me about any of your own experiences as a career woman in biomedical science? Is there anything from your own personal experiences that you want to highlight?

It has been a long journey, and I am grateful for the support I have had from managers and colleagues. Along the way, I have taken on training opportunities such as the IBMS specialist portfolio, MSc modules and NEQAS courses. Although these are at the sacrifice of some of my own time, they help me to deliver a better service to patients. During this time, due to personal circumstances, having a work-life balance was not easy. I think this is an area that should be re-visited, as lack of protected study time at the workplace with a heavy workload has been the norm throughout my career.

You are not on your own - I have made connections with some fantastic and supportive laboratory staff. Regardless of their role at work, they proved to be excellent teachers in passing on knowledge and experience. I would find myself in situations where I required advice from someone more experienced. It was through asking questions that I was able to learn and grow. I am now able to support my colleagues in a similar way. By supporting each other as a team, we can remove barriers and create a more productive work environment.


What advice do you have for young women looking to enter the field?

Do your research! ‘Biomedical Scientist’ is a protected title by the Health and Professions Council and requires an IBMS accredited Biomedical Science degree. It also requires the completion of the IBMS registration portfolio. Not many degrees are accredited, and there are many disciplines within pathology which may require further qualifications for career progression, so doing your research helps.

For anyone looking to progress in their career as a Biomedical Scientist, I’d recommend the IBMS mentoring scheme where there are expert volunteers to guide you; this is confidential and can be a very positive experience. Lastly don’t let your self-limiting beliefs stop you, use your resources around you, ask questions, and speak to your colleagues - they can be good mentors too!


Lavanya Kanapathypillai, Specialist Biomedical Scientist in Cellular Pathology & member of the IBMS Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Working Group.

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