An evening with a Steminist

Photo Credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

‘I’m a STEM-INIST’- read the clever amalgamated (STEM + Feminist) caption on the T-shirt worn by Professor Dame Anne Glover, catching the eyes of the audience, as she stepped on the to the stage to deliver her talk on why ‘diversity makes life better for everybody’. She had been invited as the keynote speaker to the King’s Buildings campus of the University of Edinburgh, on the occasion International Women’s’ Day on  March 8, 2019.

The esteemed molecular biologist from Scotland had previously served as the first Chief Scientific Advisor of Scotland (2006-2011), the Chief Scientific Advisor to the President of the European Commission (2012-2014) and is currently the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Her role, as the Chief Scientific Advisor to the president of the European Commission, entailed providing expert advice on any matters concerning science, technology and innovation. The position, which was initially established with barely any resources or support, grew substantially under her tenure, making the spot an influential and powerful voice in European Science Policy. Professor Glover is known to have championed the necessity to propagate evidence based policy.

The talk started with the Professor referring to an article called ‘The Good Wife’ published in the popular American magazine, Housekeeping Monthly (1955). The Professor spoke about how this article contained regressive ideas about how the ideal woman should be, which held no significance in today’s times, yet we had much to ponder if things have really changed for woman since then, or if the ‘change’ was just a utopian principle not being practiced.

She talked about the first time she felt really curious about science, which was when she got to play with her brother’s chemistry set. As small as this may seem, it laid the foundation for her interest for science and to pursue science in the future. She spoke about how her parents didn’t assign stereotypical roles to her or her brother, which helped in establishing an atmosphere of equality in the household.

The talk was mostly centered around why diversity in every sphere is necessary and how it makes life better for every individual. She gave examples from her personal experiences and shared anecdotes from lives of people that had inspired her.

An interesting thought that she left with the audience was a request to all men. Professor Glover said, “If men are invited to panel discussions surrounding ANY topic, please take the extra efforts to check if the panel has an equal representation of women. This is extremely important, because as a man, you are stressing on the significance of a diversity in a setting which requires expertise of some sort, and it is the responsibility of an organizer to make sure that there is a varied panel.”

The session concluded with a short round of Q&A with the audience, where Professor Glover was asked about her personal experiences as a woman in a male dominated field, how she dealt with difficult situations, how her experiences had shaped her decisions and what advice she would give to upcoming women scientists.

Professor Glover answered each question with candour, and was clear about being fairly lucky about not facing sexism in her career. She did however, talk about tough decisions that she had to make in her professional life, and said that her motivation behind every step that she took or tackled adversity that she faced was her love for science.

Professor Glover was extremely forthcoming in her attitude, friendly with a great sense of humour. The talk struck a chord with the audience, leaving us all a little more enlightened about the trending hashtag for the event, #balanceforbetter.

This post was written by Shruti Sundaresan and edited by Karolina Zieba.

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