Chemistry lab culture fails to attract women

January 31, 2003

The number of young women who leave chemistry after postgraduate study is an "unforgivable waste", according to an eminent chemical engineer.

Julia Higgins, professor of polymer science at Imperial College London, said that simple changes could make a crucial difference to the "culture and comfort" of the laboratory, making a career in chemistry more attractive to women.

"Some of our best chemistry departments can attract young women at a ratio of one to three at postgraduate level but by the postdoc stage they have only one woman to 20 men," Dame Julia said.

She chaired a working group investigating recruitment and retention of women in academic chemistry, which published its findings this week. The report - for the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Athena Project - concludes that good management is vital to the recruitment and retention of women.

It says: "The best departments do not target measures specifically at women: they create a culture of diversity where all individuals can thrive and be rewarded for their contribution, regardless of gender or family circumstances."

It calls for changes to the recruitment process. There should be at least two women on interview panels, it says, with a panel chair from outside the department.

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