Creche course for a top scientist

December 1, 1995

Dear Robert May,

Next time a bunch of women invites you, as chief scientific adviser to the Government, to address its conference on female careers in science, try a little preparation before you take part.

Don't look irredeemably glum as you sit on its panel of speakers. Don't shrink back between the women scientists until the panel looks like a meanly filled man sandwich. And try to at least mention women in your answers.

When they ask you about short-term contracts, said to leave women with nothing to return to after maternity leave, we advise you against your lengthy reply. It was interesting - but it did not refer to women.

Your joke about the long hours culture entertained your audience: "We need a bit more respect for that perceived vice at Oxford University - respect for effortless superiority." But they had to wait half an hour, during which you seem not to have realised that you were at the British Association's "Careers for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology in Europe". Then, near the end, you said it. You said something directly about women. It was when an engineer said she collects her children each day at 6pm. You said: "Why do the women engineers have to collect the children? That's a problem that's created by society and, with great respect, in women's relationships." Well done, Professor May, that's why they called the conference. Perhaps they've won you over.

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