Why is it important to have more women in science? (Note: I am using science inclusively, that is, I imply ‘and engineering, technology, mathematics and medicine’.)
Broadly there are two approaches: justice and the business case.
In the preface to SET Fair: A Report on Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET Fair (2002)), Baroness Greenfield wrote
‘I have a strong personal conviction that any individual should be able to work in science to the extent, and at the level, appropriate for their personal choices, and commensurate with their abilities, but without gender as a constraining factor.’
I agree. A system that, for example, makes it much more likely that a woman with a baby or small child will be squeezed out of science than a man with similar responsibilities is simply unjust. This may appear to be an uncontroversial statement but one nevertheless hears it said that women ought to choose between having a family and having a fulfilling career commensurate with their abilities.
2. The Business Case
The SET Fair report lists four business reasons for greater gender diversity in science:
- Competiveness – the
needs the best people engaged in SET UK
- Return on Investment – we do not want to lose expensively trained individuals
- Benefit to Science – a more diverse workforce brings new perspectives and priorities
- Missed markets and skills – 50% of customers are women so companies could be missing out on potential markets.
I will examine some of these benefits more closely in subsequent posts, for example, what does ‘best’ mean? However, let’s look at this just as a business case. To whom to the benefits accrue? Firstly, to the
What happens, however, at the level of a research group? Suppose a principal investigator has a project with two years funding and hires a woman who subsequently wants to take six months maternity leave. In the
I have used examples from the university sector but I suggest that similar considerations apply whenever short term financial performance or short term productivity have high priority.
If business case arguments are to be effective then the incentives at the level of research group and department have to be aligned with the goals from which the