Breaking the barriers
On the subject of inclusion and diversity in the chemical sciences, Claire acknowledges that there is still work to be done and is impatient for change.
“I think that gender equality should be a given. I think we shouldn't be talking about it anymore, it should just be happening. The fact we're not there yet tells me there is a lot that we need to look at and understand. I want everyone to be able to access science and the fact that there are still barriers that block people from entering or progressing is really sad. To achieve true inclusion we need to be looking at every stage in the process and understanding the barriers at every single point. I'm disappointed that we're not there yet because I'm impatient and I want change now.”
So what are some of these barriers that we should be looking to break down?
“We need to think about the culture in our workplaces and communities, that's a very big challenge. Reaching people who don't know or don't see their potential is really difficult too. There is a lot of research that shows that women lose out at many stages. They're less likely to be nominated for awards; when they do apply for grants, they'll apply for less money, less often, and all of these challenges block women from progressing.
I think that gender equality should be a given. I think we shouldn't be talking about it anymore, it should just be happening
“But we need to remember that everyone has an individual role in making this happen. It's not just a systems-only approach, it's something that requires people to evaluate their own behaviour and check their assumptions and biases. For example, some people (often unconsciously) perpetuate a damaging stereotype that women should take notes in a meeting because they have better handwriting than men. This is particularly significant as it will frame the contribution of a senior woman (for example) to a meeting in a very different way.
It's also important to think about caring responsibilities: the Breaking the Barriers report has shown that women have more caring responsibilities than men. Meeting times are therefore extremely important in this context: if your meeting runs over, then women are more likely to have to leave, which means they unfairly lose out on opportunities to contribute their expertise and ideas.
“Smaller things also add to the bigger picture – gender bias around language is important to look at. People often use language that will describe a woman as being less successful than a man on, for example, a reference letter. Implicit bias appears in the selection of words used to describe the scientist where men are more likely to be described with words that place an emphasis on their excellence whereas women are more likely to be described with words that are less likely to set them apart but highlight that they are solid scientists. This means that women will work hard whereas men will just instantly be amazing, which is a differentiation that is downright wrong. Women are just as outstanding as men, so it’s completely unfair to see that their work and achievements are diminished in this way.”
Despite these concerns, Claire is optimistic for the future of gender equality in chemistry and wants to see more young women pursuing a career in research.
“I think a lot of conversations have started where people are recognising that these issues exist and they are trying to target solutions for them. There are lots of programmes that are coming online or already in place that will break down the barriers that block women at every stage in the chemistry pipeline.
“To any young woman who is thinking about going into chemistry, I would absolutely say go for it. We need you, we need your incredible skills, we need your creativity, we need your ideas and we need your intelligence. And I wouldn't want them to think that there is no place for them because there absolutely is!”
Dr Claire Murray was featured in our video as part of the campaign surrounding our Breaking the barriers report into women’s retention and progression in chemistry. Read the report and share the findings using the digital pack on our website.