Parliamentary Links Day sets a trend

Parliamentary Links Day 2013

MPs, ministers and representatives of the science community discussed diversity in science at the Society’s annual Parliamentary Links Day. As the day unfolded, the event even began ‘trending’ on Twitter, with #diversityinSTEM ranked just below #Wimbledon.

Andrew Miller, chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, announced an inquiry would be launched to look at women in STEM careers. He examined what Government can do to prevent the drop off in women from academia and the fact that women only hold 9% of top level jobs in natural science.

The Society of Biology organises Links Day, the largest science event on the Parliamentary events calendar, on behalf of the science and engineering community. Its aim is to strengthen dialogue with Parliament and to provide MPs with a more rounded understanding of scientific issues. This year speakers explored the ways in which the scientific community contributes to the diversity of science and engineering and also the major issues of diversity within science and engineering.

An all-woman panel, including Professor Alice Brown (Royal Society of Edinburgh), Dr Heather Williams (Science Grrl), Dr Cathy Hobbs (Council for the Mathematical Sciences), Beck Smith (Campaign for Science and Engineering) and Professor Lesley Yellowlees (Royal Society of Chemistry), discussed the loss of talent and opportunities from women leaving science and called for more ‘policy-muscle’ to speed up improvements in diversity in science.

Science and Universities minister David Willetts, in his keynote address, supported the idea that universities should take students with general science qualifications rather than pressuring students to decide what discipline they want to study at 16 – when many girls drop physics.

He said that the science community should represent the country it emerges from.

Debate at the event and across Twitter covered topics including the 'leaky pipeline' through academia, social mobility, integrating the sciences in schools, work experience and parental leave.

Other panellists and speakers included Professor Sir Peter Knight (Institute of Physics), Professor Dame Julia Higgins (The Royal Society), Anne Foster (House of Commons Diversity and Inclusion Unit), Dr John Conway (STEM Disability Committee), Roma Agrawal (WSP Group) and Professor Amrita Ahluwalia (British Pharmacological Society).