Women physicists strive for career equality

In a new report, a team of senior women physicists have challenged the scientific and academic establishments to tackle the problem of female under-representation in physics careers. The report, “Women Physicists Speak”, was led by Professor Gillian Gehring of the University of Sheffield and will be launched at a meeting of the Institute of Physics on 5 September. It is the result of an international conference about the issue and makes a number of important recommendations.

· Women in Leadership The report advocates action to involve more women in science leadership. Suggestions include ensuring that young women are prepared for leadership roles and taking a more flexible approach to leadership posts, such as shared positions.

· Pausing the career clock Many women take time off for family responsibilities and the report suggests ways of ensuring that this doesn’t hamper women’s career prospects. Ways of achieving this include introducing flexible age limits and rules for grants and fellowships and providing funding sources for women who wish to return to physics after a career pause.

· Helping dual career couples For couples who are both involved in physics, it can be problematic for both partners to secure jobs in a suitable geographical location. The report suggests that universities should offer geographically co-located job opportunities and shared academic posts.

· Encouraging more girls to study physics The report says that attractive course materials are needed to interest girls in physics from an early age, so that girls feel drawn, rather than pushed, to study physics.

The report notes that the number of women physicists has increased over the past fifty years, and particularly over the past twenty, but points out that there is still a long way to go before a gender balance is reached.

Professor Gehring says, “This report is about trying to understand why women are under-represented in physics and finding ways to encourage a more balanced workforce. We are working on strategies that will benefit women at all ages who want to enter into scientific careers – from school age girls through to female university professors. We want to encourage those women with a talent for science to use it to open up a rewarding and exciting career.”

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Lorna Branton AlphaGalileo

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