Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a global day celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. #adalovelaceday That includes the incredible female researchers helping to bring about the first life-changing treatments for dementia.
In our 2015 report, we spoke of women as a ‘marginalised majority’, because, for women, dementia presents a ‘triple whammy’. Not only are 65% of people living with dementia women, they are also more likely to end up as carers of friends and relatives with a form of dementia. In addition, women are more likely to leave science early in their careers meaning female talent isn’t being fully harnessed in research.
Alzheimer’s Research UK is passionate about championing our female scientists. We spoke with some of the incredible researchers we work with about dementia research, potential barriers and how we can support women in science.
Diversity of ideas drives innovation in research
Understanding why senior research positions are still predominantly occupied by men is important, because we know that having diversity in a field boosts productivity and innovation. For example, authors of a recent study analysed 1.5 million research papers and found that if at least one author was female, the paper was more likely to include an analysis on gender and sex differences among research participants.
Ensuring we’re gaining perspectives and attitudes from scientists from all walks of life is important for research progress and something we want to champion through our position as the UK’s biggest dementia research funder.
An imbalance at the top
Looking around during my PhD, it was apparent to me that women disappear as you look up the research hierarchy. While at PhD level, there were slightly more women than men, male professors outnumbered female ones.
Unfortunately, my experience isn’t unique. When you look across all science disciplines and career stages, women make up just 38.1% of the UK community of researchers on average. Although there may be many reasons why, it’s clear that women are leaving the field before they progress into high ranking positions.
The importance of role models
“I could do that” has to be one of the most motivating things we can tell ourselves, and it’s for this reason that having role models is so vital. Having high ranking women to look up to, whether in science or elsewhere, is pivotal for progress being made around gender equality.
I was lucky to learn from the more senior researchers who went before me. Their example taught me how important it was that women who have climbed toward the top don’t pull up the ladder behind them. Not only are these women providing inspiration to others, they are forging a path for others to follow.
How we can support women in science
Through initiatives like flexible work hours, shared parental leave, equal pay, mentorship early in their careers, improving the representation of women in senior roles, and retaining talent and diversity in teams, organisations can provide a successful footing for the entire workforce.
Here at Alzheimer’s Research UK, all our funding schemes and grants are flexible, enabling people to tailor their funding to their needs, be it flexible hours, part-time working or even bringing children along to interviews. When we looked at the people applying to our grant schemes, we saw that while more men than women apply to us for research funding, the success rates are on par between men and women.
Help us celebrate women!
Whether it’s a scientist you admire, a mentor who has helped you grow, or someone in your personal life that you look up to, we want to hear about the incredible women who have had an impact on you. Tweet us @ARUKnews and use #adalovelaceday and #pressforprogress to join the conversation.