Does this government care about women in science? asks Professor Lesley Yellowlees

13 June 2012

The government is failing in its duty to adequately support women in science, according to the President-Elect of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Professor Lesley Yellowlees said she was dismayed that the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills had withdrawn all funding for the only dedicated body established to build gender equality and diversity in science, engineering and technology.

She made her comments on the day of an adjournment debate in Parliament on women in science, following an Early Day Motion on the topic that attracted just 21 signatures.

Professor Lesley Yellowlees, who will next month become the first female president of the RSC in its 171-year history, questioned whether the government was committed to gender equality and diversity as a whole.

"Does this government and our politicians care about women in science?" she asked. "The United Kingdom Resource Centre, the lead organisation working to advance gender equality in science, engineering and technology to deliver the 2003 government strategy for women in SET, only merged with the women in science group WISE, last year.

"Yet around the same time the government decided to slash their funding from 2.5m a year to nothing. The UKRC was not even consulted and only found out about the decision hours before it was made public. No evidence for this decision was shown to UKRC, which now operates as a 'community interest company'."

Lesley Yellowlees at Burlington House

Professor Yellowlees at the RSC's offices in Burlington House, Piccadilly, in front of Hope: the Chemist by Scottish artist Stuart Gatherer

The allocation made by the government to the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) for the new Diversity in Engineering Programme was 200,000 - less than 10% of the annual funding previously given to UKRC. The previous funding for the UKRC represents 0.05% of the total Science and Research allocation of 4.6 billion per year.

UKRC director Annette Williams described it at the time as "a dramatic change in strategy since that set out by the previous Government in response to the SET Fair report."

Professor Yellowlees said she was delighted to see the Early Day Motion put forward by Valerie Vaz, MP for Walsall South, calling for the funding to be restored.

EDM 105, 'Women in Science', states that "only 29.8 per cent of all female science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates of working age in the UK are employed in science, engineering and technology occupations compared to half of all male STEM graduates of working age; notes that under-representation of women in STEM costs 15 to 23 billion or 1.3 to 2 per cent of GDP."

The motion praised the work of UKRC, which has advanced gender equality and diversity from classroom to boardroom. But it went to say it regretted "that the Government has decided not to renew funding for the United Kingdom Resource Centre from April 2011 resulting in a 100 per cent loss of Government funding this year; and calls on the Government to secure the continuation of the United Kingdom Resource Centre for Women in Science and Engineering into the next year by restoring their funding".

But only 21 MPs put their name to the motion ahead of the adjournment debate this evening.

Professor Yellowlees added: "Although only a handful of Early Day Motions have secured the signatures of hundreds of MPs, I was rather hoping a lot more than just 3% of our politicians would add their name to one calling for the restoration of such vital funding."

Related Links

Link icon Women in Science Early Day Motion 105
That this House welcomes the valuable contribution to science made by women; acknowledges the contribution of Bedford College, University of London, which opened up higher education to women for the first time in the UK.

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