CaSE supports increasing diversity in science and engineering. Many of our members are taking pro-active steps to do this. In this guest post Hazel describes the initiatives taken by the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) to address gender imbalance in pharmacology.
Professor Amrita Ahluwalia (on the left) became the first Chair of the Women in Pharmacology Committee in 2007 and Professor Jane Mitchell (on the right) won the 2012 AstraZeneca Prize for Women in Pharmacology.
In 1935 Mary Pickford became the first woman elected to BPS membership – just four years after the Society was initially formed. Fast forward almost 80 years and the BPS membership currently includes 1,090 female members, representing around 35% of the total. This picture has improved very slowly since 2004 when there was 30% representation – partly because this was when BPS first chose to look into why women were under-represented amongst senior pharmacologists in UK industry, higher education and BPS membership.
Our research showed that while student members were more or less evenly split between the genders (52% female) there was a steady decline in female membership from graduation onwards (25% Full members, 15% Fellows and 8.5% Honorary Fellows). These numbers pointed to a steady ‘leakage’ of women from the pharmacology profession at the mid-career stage – hardly a surprise given that this ‘leakage’ is reflected across many STEM careers.
It is no coincidence that the leaky pipeline begins around the time when many women in pharmacology are considering starting a family. We contacted some of the female pharmacologists who had left the workplace and asked them why they had decided to leave science. Responses were mixed, but a common theme was the perceived inability to remain competitive in a profession where success is measured by papers published and grants won, with little or no consideration given to time away from work e.g. maternity leave/childcare.
It became clear to BPS that there was a specific need to provide additional support and guidance to our female members throughout their careers.
Addressing the imbalance
In 2005 BPS set up a mentoring scheme to support its female members in order to help them stay in pharmacology and to achieve their full potential. To date 95 mentoring partnerships have been established.
The success of the mentoring scheme led to the establishment of the Women in Pharmacology Committee in order to help promote careers for women in pharmacology and clinical pharmacology and to address the under-representation of women at senior level. Professor Amrita Ahluwalia (pictured at the top of the post on the left) became the first Chair of the Women in Pharmacology Committee in 2007.
BPS also organizes training supported by WISE, offering our members leadership skills, career guidance and work life balance workshops at no charge. To help our members attend our events we offer bursaries to help cover any caring costs incurred.
To address the limited female representation amongst the winners of our many awards and prizes the AstraZeneca Prize for Women in Pharmacology was set up in 2009. The 2012 winner Jane Mitchell is pictured at the top of the post on the right and has been filmed reflecting on the role of women in pharmacology. While our longer term aim is to encourage women to nominate themselves and each other across all of our awards, this prize gives us the opportunity to recognize our many female leaders and role models.
Finally, BPS has just introduced a new career break membership category allowing members taking extended leave to retain all of the benefits of membership without cost and regardless of gender.
It remains to be seen how our recent initiatives will improve further the gender balance within BPS, but early indications from data collected is positive. It is clear that alone we cannot do much to tackle gender imbalance in the workplace more broadly, but we are optimistic that our relatively small changes will go someway to effecting change for our members.
Inspiring women: role models
BPS equality and diversity statement