Bristol's summer of women in STEM


By Zoe Lee, Third Year, Cancer Biology and Immunology

In the heart of Bristol, a number of educational events were held over the summer to promote women in Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM), in an effort to tackle gender disparity in such fields.

Soapbox Science, a public outreach platform launched in 2011, aims to promote women in science and their research. Their annual events originally only ran in London, but now they have been extended to over 14 major cities, including Bristol. The events are inspired by the traditional Hyde Park speakers’ corner; transforming public spaces into an area of public speaking, debate and discussion, all in the name of science.

The event took place in Broadmead shopping centre, where twelve leading female scientists from across the South West took to the stage, hoping to engage and interact with the public about their work using non-conventional methods such as props. The sessions lasted one hour and featured four speakers each. Soapbox is funded by many notable organisations including L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science, and has made significant impact by supporting other initiatives such as Athena SWAN.

Other events that took place over the summer included Changemakers. The event was proposed by data scientist and Bristol alumnus Elena Hensinger and organised by the University of Bristol’s Jean Golding Institute (JGI) with the aid of the Department of Computer Science outreach team and Bristol-based women working in the tech industry. Changemakers involved female students aged 14-17 forming teams and collaborating in order to develop a tech project to assist a social or environmental campaign. Over five days, the students attended seminars, gained industrial insight and learned new skills.

Professor Kate Robson Brown, director of the JGI, commented that 'in these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that young women have a voice and are encouraged to develop the skills they will need to tackle some of the big issues humanity is faced with.'

'in the UK women make up just 11 percent of senior lecturers in STEM fields, and less than 8 percent of professors'

According to the University of Bristol, in the UK women make up just 11 percent of senior lecturers in STEM fields, and less than 8 percent of professors. The UK has an annual shortfall of around 40,000 STEM workers, which could be remedied by encouraging more women to enter and stay in science.

Research by the American Association of University Women suggests that stereotypes and implicit bias are both important factors contributing to the deficit of representation of women within STEM fields. One of their recommendations is to spread the word about the achievements of girls and women in math and science, which is exactly what these events in Bristol have aimed to do.

Featured: Unsplash / Ani Kolleshi

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