Celebrating women and girls in science

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is always a time to reflect on the roles played by women in our industry and the need to encourage more to follow their lead.

To mark the day this year, we sat down with Principal Scientist Lorna Duffy and Senior Scientist Pauline Drouhin to get their take on issues like gender equality, visibility and stereotypes.

Our conversation began with one simple but critically important question: is it harder for women to embark on a career in science?

Lorna and Pauline both highlighted that, while there may be plenty of opportunities for women to study scientific subjects at university or apply for job vacancies, a range of preconceived ideas might be preventing girls from considering a future in science.

Lorna said: “It’s not necessarily ‘harder’, but there still are fewer women in science, so sometimes people might find that a bit overwhelming.

“Young children may have been led to believe that men are more suited to the kind of analytical thinking you need, and those misconceptions could put you off from thinking about science as an option.”

“There are fewer women in science, so sometimes people might find that a bit overwhelming.”

Lorna noted how children in schools will often picture a man when asked what a scientist looks like.

Getting girls into science

For Pauline, this reflected the need to raise awareness of women in science from a younger age.

“I decided to be a scientist very early – I didn’t initially know I wanted to work in chemistry, but I knew I wanted to work in the general area.

“I think we could be doing a lot more to educate people much earlier and help them see that there are women in science and you can do it too.”

Lorna agreed. “At school, if there are more boys studying Engineering, Maths or Science, then girls may feel there is less encouragement for them, even though there are the opportunities there ahead of them.

“I suppose it’s all about encouraging girls to study science from the outset; if fewer people do it at the beginning, then there will be fewer people coming through at the end.”

Following in female footsteps

Both Lorna and Pauline agreed that having female role models to look up to, or at least having visibility of women in science, is crucical if the industry is going to “level the playing field” over time.

“Career progression shouldn’t be any harder for women.”

Lorna said: “I think that makes a huge difference; there’s almost a feeling that you can’t be it if you can’t see it.

“I know that’s been moving in the right direction over the decades and there are more women in science now, but it’s definitely brilliant to see that for yourself – especially in more senior roles, as well.

“Career progression shouldn’t be any harder for women, but I think it can be sometimes because women and girls are often more critical of themselves in competitive environments, which can be a barrier.

“As people progress further, women’s careers can be impacted more than men by having children or a family; we have to find ways for that to not be an issue, but it makes it more complicated.”

Pauline then mentioned Mihiro Sunose, Associate Director of Chemistry at Sygnature, as someone she can look up to within her team.

Creating new opportunities

So with one of the key aims of International Day of Women and Girls in Science being to increase participation, how should we go about improving access and encouraging greater interest?

Lorna recalled going into a lab as part of her work experience when she was 16 – “I might not have known exactly what I wanted to do yet, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and knew I didn’t want to work in an office” – and suggested the offering more practical opportunities like this could be invaluable.

“When you see women doing these jobs, the fact there are the jobs available… well, you might not want to get into a career where you’re the only woman there, and work experience would show it’s more mixed and not just male.”

“I’ve never felt alone as a woman or out of place in any way here.”

Happily, Pauline feels welcome and appreciated at Sygnature, and noted that “while it’s not 50-50” in our staff numbers there are “more women than you might think”.

“A project team I was in recently had 10 people, and three of those were women. I’ve never felt alone as a woman or out of place in any way here.”

Pauline continued by mentioning the integration within Sygnature as a key advantage, as she always finds herself working alongside other women even if they’re in our other departments.

The need for women in science

The main takeaway from our conversation, though, was a strong desire to encourage more women to pursue a career in science, whether by applying for jobs or choosing to study related subjects in further or higher education.

It’s something Pauline is especially passionate about – she is taking part in the Sygnature-sponsored Celebrating Women in Chemistry Conference and Careers Event at the University of Nottingham on 8th March (which is also International Women’s Day).

Lorna added: “We need women in science.

“Women have different skill sets, different points of view, a different way of thinking about things sometimes, and that’s really important in science because you need a wide variety of perspectives.”

At Sygnature Discovery, we’re passionate about gender equality.

We always, of course, recruit the best scientists and people regardless of gender, but we also support the women in our teams to stay in science through things like family-friendly working practices.

As Lorna and Pauline acknowledge, changing stereotypes around science won’t happen overnight.

Yet it’s vital that we keep striving to do whatever we can to show the world that women in scientific are doing amazing work – and are always welcome to fulfil their potential, both at Sygnature and anywhere else in the industry.

Want to work at Sygnature? We’re hiring for a wide variety of scientific and non-scientific roles on our Careers page.