International women’s day|week

For International Women’s Day, the Athena Swan team at Aberystwyth put on a series of events over the course of the preceding week. I was off to London for a conference so helped organise an event on the Monday before jetsetting off to The Smoke (if you can call travelling via Arriva Trains Wales “jetsetting”). Thanks to all the speakers, to my co-organiser Carina Fearnley (who did most of the hard organisational work) and to Computer Science in Aberystwyth for sponsoring the evening (paying for amplification and tech setup). We had about 70 people there, I think, and there were a few more watching on the internet livestream.

The idea of Monday’s event was that we’d have a series of talks looking at women and science, from pre-school and girls toys right through the school and education pipeline up to professorial science. Turns out the professor had to drop out (something important came up) but the rest of us did short talks, and my co-organiser Carina Fearnley made some last-minute adjustments to her slides to cover some of his content.

First up, I spoke about girl’s toys and science and why, in my opinion, Pink Stinks

Next was Dr Rachel Horsley on school science and girls, who took as her starting point a famously cheesy video from the EU, called “Science, it’s a Girl Thing”. I’m not going to link to it – it’s awful! Rachel spoke about the way in which the concept “girl” is constructed, and how this might affect such a campaign.

Grace Burton, our students’ union’s education officer (did I get the apostroph’es right?) spoke about undergraduate experience, looking at women in science and the broader picture for undergraduate women. Props to Grace for tackling some major issues and presenting a really well thought out argument.

Finally, Dr Carina Fearnley talked about the Leaky Pipeline, and the way in which pressures on career (particularly at the early career/post-doc stage) can stack up against women in science.

We then had a break for the bar, and the results of the Athena Swan Women in Science photo contest. This was won by a superb picture from Ramona Tapi, a third year computer science student. Here’s the pic:

After the break there was a panel debate where the audience could join in and comment on issues around women and science : I’m not going to put up the video for that bit, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the discussion was lively and people really joined in. One phrase which seems to resonate is something I heard Rebecca George say once, when talking about tech:

A profession that’s better for women is better for all

I think that quote applies just as much to the broader sphere of science as it does to IT and computing careers. The stuff that’s important – flexible working, not being treated like shit, decent pay, equality of opportunity, support – is important to all genders. How we go about ensuring this is a hard, unsolved problem. But there seems to be some effort being made, some acknowledgement that there is a problem there, and some willingness to try.

On a nerdy note: this was the first talk I had a go at live-streaming and it worked really well. About 25 people watched the livestream at some point whilst the event was going on, and Youtube canned the stream for later usage. My excellent MPhil student Matt Pugh recorded the videos you can see above, which are better quality than the live stream, but it was really useful to a) be able to broadcast live (we used Google hangouts via Youtube, and it was easy to set up working first time); and b) to have the event record up on line from the moment it finished. Nice work Google.

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