Lonely at the top for women scientists

A new network has been set up to support women scientists who find themselves isolated in senior positions.

Sci Sisters is the work of Prof Polly Arnold, who holds the Crum Brown chair of chemistry at Edinburgh University.

In the past she has worked to encourage more young women to consider careers in science.

Now she is attempting to address the issue that only 10% of the top jobs in Scottish science, technology, engineering and mathematics are held by women.

It’s long been recognised that science has a problem with women.

Alison Hulme is the freshly-minted professor of synthesis and chemical biology at Edinburgh University.

As she’s worked her way to the top of her profession, she’s accumulated some grim tales of scientific sexism in academia and industry.

“When I asked a pharmaceutical company what would you do about the retention of women in your company, the HR person said ‘well we don’t employ many women and disabled people’.

“Right through to interviewing for an academic position, where I was asked how it would feel working in a department of married men.”

That was, Prof Hulme concedes, 15 to 20 years ago and many of those attitudes have been left behind.

But women scientists – and technologists, engineers and mathematicians – who rise in education, industry and government find another problem: it can be lonely at the top.

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