Awareness of the importance and benefits that derive from equality, diversity and inclusion have increased in recent years – and this is very welcome. However, I was alarmed to read that the World Economic Forum predicted in their 2015 Global Gender Gap Report that at current rates of progress it will take another 169 years to close the gender gap – which is far, far too long. In response, the 2017 International Women’s Day campaign theme is #BeBoldforChange. This campaign is calling on each of us, irrespective of gender, to take bold action to accelerate progress towards gender parity and a better working world.
International Women’s Day, held annually on 8 March, has become a focal point for celebrating the achievements of women – whether they are social, economic, cultural or political in nature. Last year I participated in a day of celebration at Rothamsted Research. This year I am delighted to be speaking at an all-day event being held at the University of Sussex, where I am looking forward to meeting and hopefully inspiring women and men alike to #BeBoldForChange.
In the UK we are fortunate to already have achieved parity in education and health, but in the economic and political spheres, we still have significant gaps to narrow. So what do I think we need to pay attention to in the STEM arena? Celebrating success and achievement have been demonstrated to be a key way to motivate and inspire others – this is the International Women’s Day bold action that I have made a personal commitment to (you too can sign up). I am also a great believer in fairness of opportunity and equality of treatment and will rail against injustice when I experience it. Another key ‘ingredient’ is support – whether it is offering support to others or being supported yourself, no one can do everything alone. I also passionately believe that it is important to respect and support the choices others make.
On the topic of choices, I have had a number of conversations with my youngest daughter, who is hoping to study Mechanical Engineering at university, to both encourage and support her and also to explore her views on entering what stubbornly remains a male-dominated area. Quite unprompted she said that she felt inclusion of more women in engineering was important as they ‘brought a different perspective that men may not see’. Research into a concept known as ‘collective intelligence’ provides evidence to support this view. A team of US researchers explored whether the performance of a group in a wide variety of tasks was influenced by the group’s composition. The study found that social sensitivity, the proportion of females in the group and equality in the distribution of conversation turn-taking were the key factors in determining the group’s performance, emphasising the importance of diversity and inclusion within the best performing groups.
Whatever you do to celebrate International Women’s Day do it in the full knowledge that it will help move the world towards gender parity – be bold and speak up!