UK funding for support for women in science, engineering and technology may have been cut, but it's everyone's responsibility to keep up the excellent work
Lying quietly among the pages of the BIS science strategy paper published in December is the latest victim to the spending cuts. The saviour for all efforts to change the proportion of women recruited and retained in science engineering and technology. The dreams of the UK Resource Centre for Women in science engineering and technology are in tatters, the hopes and dreams of an effective approach to women in STEM too. Or are they? While discussion groups, blogs and Twitter are abuzz with calls for UKRC to be saved, for a job half done, for letters to be written to MPs, perhaps we should pause and reflect.
Consider where we were, how far we have come and how far there is still to go and we might see that there are some foundations in place. The £10m spent by BIS and various European grants that have added to the spending power of UKRC have, in fact, been wisely spent and changed the landscape for good.
The immediate response is panic and alarm – how will we possibly maintain effort if there is no guiding body? Taking the rational approach, there are many bodies across the STEM piece with an aligned agenda and I suspect it is time that we took responsibility for our role in this. Responsibility to recruit, promote and pay fairly.
Fact: we can't attract enough talent. Solution: tackle the image, the opportunity and the social perceptions and constraints we put on girls unconsciously. That will be your unconscious.
Fact: Women leave STEM, but women also return to STEM. So open your mind to the skills and life talents and the way that you recruit and assess all your talent.
Fact: Women aren't advancing in the workplace. You are responsible for that. Make sure you have a great workplace, give all staff opportunities and don't limit women's careers by thinking them out of a promotion. You are responsible for that too.
It isn't complicated to build an inclusive workplace. You simply have to treat people with respect and ensure that every person is given the opportunity to grow and have their talents nurtured. The reality is, though, that because of the way things have been done for so long, we often slip into practices that aren't welcoming to women and do make us feel excluded.
This isn't about 'them and us', male or female, it's about building on our great strengths of innovation, creativity and ingenuity and shaping the technological future for a better world. The world and future belongs to both men and women.
Government funding comes and goes, projects and campaigns are short term. We need to take responsibility for growing our profession, its professionalism, and treating and rewarding each other on merit and not prejudging someone because of their gender. I point you to the recent Sky Sports incident where a woman's judgement of the offside rule during a football match was questioned simply because she was a woman.
Should we be worried about the lack of funding to engage women in SET? Not if you do your bit. The Women's Engineering Society – established in 1919 and hosted at the IET – connects and inspires students and professionals, offers insight into career options, provides networking opportunities and champions women's contribution to technology.
The Daphne Jackson Trust, too, continues to support women and men returning to a research career.
You can call on these groups to help you recruit more women and ensure they have access to role models and mentors, for example through MentorSET.
We should applaud the work, the evidence and the profile that UKRC has given to us, but we should look forward and take responsibility for building a workplace that is fit for all.
Jan Peters is MD of consultancy Katalytik (www.katalytik.co.uk), specialising in knowledge transfer and diversity in technology, and is also president of the Women's Engineering Society (www.wes.org).