IBMS celebrates International Women's Day
Why do you like working in science?
TH: I have always enjoyed studying human biology as I am fascinated by how the anatomy and physiology of the human body allows us to better understand health and disease. I’ve also always known that I wanted to work in a hospital to help patients, so this aspect, combined with my appreciation for biomedical science, allowed me to work in pathology whilst enabling me to apply the knowledge and skills I have gained during my studies.
Zoé Andrews (ZA): I enjoying being able to learn new things, and different processes. Science is forever learning, always changing and it helps you learn adaptation skills.
Valerie Bevan (VB): Working in science provided me with an exciting career, as well as knowledge and many skills. Having retired from paid employment, I remain involved in the British Society for Microbial Technology and in current political issues as well as editing a car magazine – all because of my career in science.
I experienced working throughout pathology, choosing microbiology because of its variety and eventually moving into management and directing a department. I gained an MSc, an MA and a PhD researching issues women face that hinder them progressing to the top jobs. My PhD led to publishing a book and related papers. More recently my articles have questioned government approaches to testing for COVID-19.
Nichola Lawrence (NL): I like that science is governed by logic and rules, but in my current job I also have some subjective interpretation by reviewing blood films and bone marrows. This means that I can spend my day interpreting results with set reference ranges, but then I also review how the different populations of blood cells appear down the microscope and help make a diagnosis that will affect patient care. No two days are the same – each day is varied and exciting.
Charlotte Felton (CF): I love working in science because I am involved in something where I am making a positive difference to patient lives – in my current role I am adding to the supply of quality and safe blood products for hospitals around the country – something which requires great attention to detail. Whilst there can be elements of pressure, I am able to maintain professionalism.
What challenges do women in science face?
TH: Women in science have come a long way and have made significant contributions to the field, however, I feel there are still some challenges women face. One of the biggest challenges is the stereotyping of women.
ZA: I honestly believe we are judged on whether or not we have or are going to have children. I think that impacts whether we are considered for positions or promotions. Unconscious bias is a common theme concerning women in science.
VB: Working in the man’s world of science, women still face similar challenges to those I faced. However, I think the main difference now is the uncertainty that women face in their careers. Working in the health service for me was a job for life. Now, employment is unpredictable and opportunities for funded study have shrunk drastically. Technological advances are now on a different scale, but keeping up to date remains paramount.
NL: I think, historically, women have felt that they might have had to choose between a family and a career but the NHS is very good at allowing flexible working arrangements, which mean that women can enjoy both and they don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. This means they can choose a career in science and be assured that advancement is available to them.
CF: Women and girls face a variety of challenges throughout their careers in science. One that is widely known is the constraints that are put on women consequently after having children. Time away from the workforce because of maternity leave means that women miss opportunities that aren’t necessarily always provided when they return to work.
What could be done differently to improve things?
TH: Continuing to do outreach work and engaging young girls and women of the younger generation will inspire them to be ambitious and provide them with opportunities to gain insights into exciting and unique careers. Clarity and implementation of the training and career pathways for scientific roles is extremely important. Active mentoring can also help provide realistic insights to scientific careers and access to networks, which can help younger girls and women recognise their talents and shape the route to the career of their choice. I also think encouraging a greater diversity is necessary, as education in science isn’t always within reach for all females and, therefore, specialist training in the field cannot be accessed, regardless of desire. Finding ways to provide opportunities and engaging them will help to make things more inclusive and attract more talent into the pool of women in science. Also, providing opportunities for women with families, such as part-time or flexible working, can help towards creating a solid work–life balance and allow them to enjoy both a career and a family. We need to break down the barriers that women face and encourage them to develop their skillsets and support career progression.
ZA: I think laboratories and management should be more open to flexible working policies and job shares for women that do have children. I know that I have faced discrimination from a previous workplace for requesting a shift pattern change. When a workplace recognises an employee’s need and supports them it makes a real difference.
VB: Government initiatives improving opportunities for women in science have ceased – this needs reversing. Schoolgirls need to be encouraged to love science and aspire. At work, women tend to be uncomfortable talking about the issues they encounter, so both women and men should be encouraged to discuss difficulties faced. Lastly, my advice is to become an expert and persevere.
NL: Women no longer have to settle for roles that stereotypically have been associated with a particular gender. They can choose to be anything they want, if they work hard and apply themselves. I think it’s important that we engage with girls at a primary school age and help them realise their full potential. Introduction to STEM days should be encouraged, so they can see the full choice of careers available to them.
CF: It is critical to support women. More emphasis needs to be put on allowing women to be mothers and also being able to have a successful career without hindering future development – this should be an attitude reciprocated by managers allowing flexibility. Many women are lost from pivotal roles in science due to the guilt that consumes them because they are struggling to keep up with the demands of motherhood and trying to strive in environments that don’t support them.
Tahmina Hussain is a Biomedical Scientist Team Manager and Blood Sciences Training Officer at The Christie Pathology Group.
Zoé Andrews is a Healthcare Scientist Assistant at Princess Elizabeth Hospital, Guernsey and is currently studying biomedical science at Ulster University.
Valerie Bevan is the Chair of the British Society for Microbial Technology and Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University Management School.
Charlotte Felton is a Senior Healthcare Technical Officer at the Manchester Blood Centre.