Survey exposes barriers

March 8, 2002

Women's perceptions and established systems have created deep-rooted barriers to female success in science, engineering and technology careers, according to a new report from the Athena Project.

Athena, a funding council initiative to advance women in science, found no overt discrimination but concluded that unintentional obstacles, which were not necessarily visible to those doing well in the system, were present.

The findings were presented at a conference last week addressed by speakers including Dame Julia Higgins, chair of Athena and foreign secretary of the Royal Society, and David King, the government's chief scientific adviser.

The report cites a dean of science who said that characteristics such as competitiveness and aggression were rewarded by the academic system while more female traits such as cooperativeness and collegiality did not lead to success.

It described five Athena-funded projects to help universities develop good practice:

* Edinburgh University was examining how to bridge the gap between university policy and the real experience of research staff

* Heriot-Watt was trying to find out why women left and how to encourage them to seek promotion

* Luton University was looking at how to ensure women were appropriately represented on university committees

* Oxford University wanted to ease the route from researcher to academic staff

* Surrey University had set up a forum to support women in playing a more significant role in the shaping the university Caroline Fox, Athena development programme manager, said: "An awful lot of it is about good straightforward human resources management."

Athena has launched an awards scheme to recognise good practice in managing women's careers in science. The first awards will be presented next year.

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