glass ceiling, Research, Science

The UK has one of Europe’s toughest ‘glass ceilings’ that female scientists have to break to reach top positions, according to calculations by an EU report.

A report which places the UK below 20 other European countries including Portugal, Bulgaria and France for the relative chance women have compared to men in reaching a top position in science, went through the European Parliament today.

The report addressed a number of social, cultural and other kinds of barriers that account for the under-representation of women in science. These included judging scientific capability on the ‘bulk’ of research rather than the quality, which discriminates against women who have taken career breaks and work part time. And removing age limits for the awarding of grants, which prejudice women who have children early on in their career.

These recommendations will now have to be addressed by all Governments across Europe, including the UK, ahead of the recruitment of an additional 700 000 additional European scientific researchers by 2010.

The UK and Europe’s scientific communities are missing out big-time by failing to retain and promote women. We are losing out on countless research ideas and methods as well as drastically reducing the size of the talent pool of scientific personnel.

Today’s report should be a wake up call to all European Governments to act now to stop the dreadful drip, drip of female talent out of one the world’s most important industries.

The latest Women and Science statistics publication “She figures 2006” (PDF 1 MB)

Motion for a European Parliament resolution on women and science


Employees, Employers, Gender, Guardian, work

Today I have had an article published on the Guardian website about the gender pay-gap which has stirred up a lot of controversy.

Many commentators say that the feminist fight has been won and that sexism in the work place no longer exists but reading some of the comments I have received it is very obvious that this is not the case.

Here are some of the responses to my article, which have frankly shocked me:

“Why should employers have to pick up the tab for a woman’s fertility? You want to be an executive? Fine. You want to be a mother? That’s fine, too. But anyone with a functioning brain cell knows that there are major conflicts between devotion to a demanding career and diligent motherhood. “

“When women read as much as men, they’ll be ready for equality.”

“Women in every culture I’ve every visited have been bitchy and into how they look. It is obviously part of your programming the same way boys like playing soldier etc. The insistance that its all a biog conspiracy just shows how outdated you are.”

“Most working-class women I know would rather serve tea to old folks or look after toddlers in a nursery while your old man goes out and earns the lion’s share of the family income.”

“in my experience the women who try the hardest to get to the top do pretty much anything they can to stop other women from joining them.”

“it’s easier to go on about these splendid bright women who just want to have babies and come back to work and are stopped by men. No, they’re not. They’re stopped by their own desire for status, greed and a belief in self-entitlement.”

“Frankly any girl who would rather be Jacqui Smith than Coleen Mcloughlin needs to be hunted down and locked up as a danger to herself and the rest of us.”

“If I were an employer, I would want to be sure that any prospective employee was going to be able to satisfy my expectations and devote the time that I’m paying them for to doing my bidding and at my convenience. So I wouldn’t employ a woman of childbearing age in this day-and-age either unless I was satisfied that her fertility wasn’t going to get in the way of my business.”

It is perfectly obvious that this is fight that is not even close to being won.

I will be thinking hard about the comments I’ve received today, from all sides of the argument, and will be writing about this again in the very near future.


Child Poverty, Equal Rights

Last week in the Parliament, MEPs invited experts to discuss “Combating Child Poverty in the EU”. Whilst I acknowledge that child poverty is often best tackled at a local level, as the speakers rightly pointed out, a co-ordinated approach from EU policy makers through to practitioners at the grass-roots is needed.

As a member of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee, what struck me was the significant impact of parents’ employment status on not only a childs’ risk of living in poverty but on their wider well-being. In the UK, for example, a child is five times more likely to be living in poverty if their lone parent is not in work.

To break the vicious cycle of poverty within families and communities, it is essential to provide employment opportunities for parents that offer flexible working patterns along with accessible and affordable high quality childcare.

I have and will continue to campaign for gender equality within the workplace. Equality of opportunity, however, should not start upon entrance to the labour market, or indeed into education, it should start from the day a child is born.

Parental rights and responsibilities are key in giving children the best start in life and I will be advocating their importance in the breadth of policies considered in my Committee work.