A focus on positive action will create opportunity

Posted by Dr Lesley Thompson on 23 June 2015

When I was at school I was told that A-level Maths was not a 'female subject'. I'd be horrified if my daughters encountered this attitude today. Thankfully, things have moved on, though as Professor Dame Ann Dowling points out in her blog for The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) until 'A' Level physics is as popular with girls as boys, young women aren't going to break through in enough numbers to change gender inequality in science and engineering.

National women in Engineering day

One of the key aims of National Women in Engineering Day is to “raise the profile of women in Engineering” and promote opportunity.

At EPSRC we are determined to address the challenge of equality and diversity across the spectrum and we are taking action at the highest level. This is outlined in a previous post by Dr Alison Wall, EPSRC Associate Director, and in our Equality and Diversity policy.

A positive example of progress was a recent meeting held by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. The event, inspired by Professor Anthony Finkelstein from University College London (UCL) (and member of EPSRC Council) focused on encouraging more women to get involved in science policy and government structures. Congratulations to Anthony for such positive action.

Increasing diversity in public appointments

The Government as a whole aims to increase diversity in public appointments, raising the proportion of women appointed to public boards to 50% by 2015. In the meantime, it's heartening to see more female Vice Chancellors appointed recently (at Oxford and Imperial).

Taking positive action

More recently, Tim Hunt's comments on women in science have thrown diversity in science into the spotlight.

In response, Professor Dame Athene Donald’s blog was correct in urging us all to take positive action on the broader issue. She suggested a list of twenty positive actions and called for every reader to carry out at least one (#just1action4WIS). Three that I’ve adapted and would really press home for us are:

  • Encourage a diverse range of people to apply for opportunities or attend events or workshops. This costs nothing. Think broadly of suitable people rather than choosing people who look or think as you do.
  • Encourage women to dare and take risks. In my experience women often think they can't and men assume they can when faced with something they've never done before.
  • Recognise the importance of family for women and men. Think about childcare commitments, work life balance and policies which support families.

Another positive action Athene backed was unconscious bias training. The leadership team at EPSRC undertook this. It was very helpful and I'd encourage others to take this up to develop staff.

EPSRC's policies

EPSRC is committed to change and to improving equality and diversity in engineering… and in physical sciences and maths, and across the wider science research base.

You can read EPSRC's policies for researchers here and we really want to hear ideas from the science and engineering community on what else can we do.

Let's celebrate the successful careers of women on National Women in Engineering Day and let’s stand with Professor Ann Dowling , Marianne Hinson, Professor Athene Donald and many, many more across our community in effecting positive change in respect of the broader issue of equality, diversity and opportunity.


In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

A portrait of Lesley Thompson
Name: Dr Lesley Thompson
Job title: Director of Science and Engineering
Organisation: EPSRC