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Women in biology

The Royal Society of Biology is concerned about the loss of women from the biosciences workforce and the low number that progress to senior positions in universities and research institutes, government, business and industry. The lack of women in decision-making positions is perhaps more surprising in the biosciences than in other scientific disciplines given the large proportion of women at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The Society recognises its important role in setting standards of good practice and encouraging the full participation of women in the Society and in the discipline as a whole. Accordingly, the Society will:

  • assign responsibility for this issue at a senior level
  • seek to ensure an appropriate gender balance on its Committees and working groups
  • monitor and review the regulations governing membership, prizes, awards and grants to ensure that they recognise individuals with non-standard career patterns
  • actively encourage the nomination and self-nomination of women into the membership of the Society and for its prizes and awards, and ensure that it considers women when proposing nominees for external prizes and positions
  • actively seek to include women speakers in its meetings and give consideration to provisions that enable participation by individuals with caring responsibilities
  • collect and analyse data to allow monitoring of the above and report this regularly to Council
  • advocate good practice across the STEM community

The Society is a signatory of the WISE (formerly UKRC) Chief Executive Officer Charter demonstrating our commitment to women in science, engineering and technology (SET), and sits on the committee of the Athena Forum, which provides strategic oversight of developments to address gender inequality in STEM.

The Royal Society of Biology responded to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee's inquiry into women in academic STEM careers. We provided evidence on why the numbers of women in STEM academic careers decline further up the career ladder and, when women leave academia, what careers they transition into. We also set out the Society's views on what universities and the higher education sector should do to retain women graduates and PhD students in academic careers and what role the Government should take in encouraging the retention of women in academic STEM careers. Many of our concerns were highlighted in the Committee’s subsequent report, and the Royal Society of Biology was quoted six times. Read our full response. We also produced a news story which details the Society's response to the report.

Dr Caroline Wallace was part of the team at the Royal Society of Edinburgh that are researching the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The RSE report entitled 'Tapping all our Talents. Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics: a strategy for Scotland' is available to download.

The Royal Society of Biology Fellow Professor Ottoline Leyser lead the 'Mothers in science: 64 ways to have it all’ project on behalf of the Royal Society; an inspirational book illustrating the career paths of career path of a research group leader in academic science alongside events in family life.

The Society's policy team assisted Jan Peters and Fellow Dr Nancy Lane last year in their research for an article on The Status of Women in the Life Sciences. The article is available via Wiley Online (£).