I have followed the Susan Greenfield story with a heavy heart. The Royal Institution, for a long time famous for little other than being a stuffy old boys’ club, had appeared with Susan’s appointment to see the light. A top scientist and superb media performer, she hit the spot. The image of the Royal Institution was transformed and science made interesting for ordinary mortals.
Yet she has been removed from her post of Director, made redundant supposedly in order to save money. Susan’s decision to sue for sex discrimination is a brave one. I, and I am sure many other women, are right behind her. I somehow doubt if she would have been treated in such a fashion had she been a man, a member of the stuffy old boys’ club.
At the time Jaqui Smith was facing undue and unjust criticism in her role as Home Secretary but before her expenses problems became public, I blogged that I believed she was being hounded because she was a high profile woman and that the charges against her would never have been made against a man. I cited two other examples of such sexism which I had seen at close quarters during the 1990s – Ros Hepplewhite, the first Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency and Director of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills. Both these women resigned after campaigns against them which seemed to me to be very unfair.
Now it’s Susan Greenfield’s turn. It certainly seems as if there are those within the august Royal Institution who want her gone. Although not voiced openly, I’m sure jealousy is at work somewhere. Susan has built a media profile and become almost a household name, something I doubt the majority of her detractors could do. The fact that she has put their formerly dusty organisation on the map and brought science to the people is neither here nor there for such fuddy-duddies.
I speak from some experience. I ran a professional body, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, in the mid 1990s, an organisation which, incidentally no longer exists as it was deemed to be unnecessary after the government reorganised the probation service. Not having a background in probation, I was an outside appointment given the task of getting more media coverage. This I did, and then met with hostility rather than thanks for doing the job I was asked to do.
It’s still very tough for those women who do make it to the very top. It’s tough to get there and tough to stay. Try being good at your job and ruffling feathers and you may end up saying goodbye to the very position you worked so hard to get. Susan, you have my wholehearted support and I wish you all the luck in the world.