The ‘Little Girl in the Room’ Phenomenon

“Be a love, make me a cup of tea.”

You could be the most qualified person in the workplace, but you can guarantee that someone will assume that you are the secretary, PA, or receptionist. As a result they will talk down to you, ignore your input, and ask you to do menial tasks like photocopying and making tea. Regardless of your ranking in the room, regardless of the insight you can offer to the discussion, you will always be the little girl in the room.

Being belittled, ignored, or being treated like you are a ‘delicate little flower’ is a pretty common experience for women. They either find themselves biting their tongues in the face of this form of institutionalised sexism, or risk their faces turning blue by having to constantly reinforce their position in boardroom meetings. As a woman in STEM I can often finds myself as the only woman in the room, and particularly as a young woman, this experience is definitely all too familiar for me. I am constantly made to feel like a ‘little girl’ in the workplace. I am not appreciated for my intelligence or the insight I could lend to discussions, because I am automatically assumed to be on the lowest end of the professional ladder, or that I lack professional responsibility.

Not only are women less likely to be in the boardroom and have to battled to get our place at the table, but when we get there we are assumed to be the one taking the meeting minutes, and we are the ones less likely to be listened to.

Research shows that women are less likely to be believed than men, even when we say the exact same statements. Our perceptions of women’s authority is shaped by gender stereotypes. Women are painted as these unstable, emotional and air-headed creatures, and although you may think that you have a positive attitude towards women, we often subconsciously make assumptions about women and their ability to make good decisions – especially in realms like business.

Society would love to believe that it treats people on merit, that if you work hard and achieve well, you will earn your spot in the boardroom. But that is not the case for women. Gender stereotyping still forms a huge barrier for us to be taken seriously, and unconscious bias can stand in the way of our agency.

To draw attention to these attitudes that can often be unconscious, we need to be unafraid to stand up to them. If someone asks you to take the meeting minutes, assign the role to someone else more suitable, and if someone asks you to make them a cup of tea, remind them where the kettle is.

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Why does communicating science matter?

The world felt more than a little bit exasperated last week, when the President of the world’s largest economy announced that they would be pulling out from the Paris Climate Agreement: a convention aiming to tackle the effects of greenhouse gases. Trump says its due to ‘a reassertion of American Sovereignty’, but under the surface of that its likely due to close relationships with oil, gas and coal companies, as well as a lack of understanding for a widely supported piece of science. Because if I didn’t fully appreciate climate change’s impact on the planet, I might be inclined to not want to be part of the Paris Climate Agreement either.

There is a district lack of STEM expertise present in government, in the UK only 9% of MPs and 20% of MEPs having a background in STEM. The lack of scientific thinking in politics can be a problem, not only because the politicians may lack the insight of the industry, but they also may not fully understand scientific concepts (which is evident in the Trump/Paris Climate Agreement debacle).

And America isn’t the only country where we should be concerned with the level of scientific ignorance in parliament. In fact, I am rather concerned about some attitudes in my home country of Wales. Andrew Haigh, UKIP’s national organiser for Wales, sells a product called “Aerobic Oxygen”. It is an industrial-strength bleach product that is told to have health benefits if used when cleaning your teeth. This is a man who wants to influence policy in Wales, including science policy, but clearing believes in and/or capitalises on a lack of scientific understanding.

The influence in science is crucial, as the miss-informed cannot create well-informed policies.

Scientists already work hard on engagement and scientific outreach with young children, and in light of recent events, it raises the question to whether scientists should also be investing time in outreach focused towards politicians. Because (and I would like to egotistically quote myself here): Misinformed politicians can lead to misinformed policies, which will not only impact scientific research community itself, but also how science research moulds our modern society.

Ultimately, it is likely that endless engagement would not have stopped Trump from pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, due to unquestionable invested interests. But it is fair to say that regular engagement with politicians about new research or outreach about scientific thinking could benefit governmental decision making. Or, for a less time-consuming and simple solution, we should encourage more STEM professionals to pursue a career in politics, to ensure that their expertise and understanding is well represented in political events.

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Detective Dot

“It’s not magic,” said Dot. “Just code.”

Nine-year-old Detective Dot is a secret agent for the CIA (the Children’s Intelligence Agency), exploring and questioning the world around her, using code to complete her missions.

The funny and informative children’s book (written by Sophie Deen) introduces concepts of coding through story telling. It gets children thinking about coding, applying what they learn in schools, and grounding what they are learning in applications and ideas for uses of code. The beautifully illustrated story book (illustrated by Nathan Hackett) touches on themes to encourage children to question the world around them, including issues like ethical fashion.

The book is designed to be read at home, are can even be used by teachers. In schools, children are now being taught coding from 5 years old, and therefor teachers can use Detective Dot as a teaching tool – which is especially helpful for teachers who lack confidence in teaching STEM subjects.

The book can be bought on its own or in a Megapack, which comes complete with a CIA Membership card, seven fun coding-based missions and an adorable personalised letter from the CIA.

Not only does this book get kids into coding but it helps address the lack of equal representation in media, specifically in children’s books. Last year I wrote a blogpost, Starting a new chapter for gender representation in children’s books, discussing my concern over the lack of good representation in the books children are reading, especially STEM story and educational materials. In the blogpost, I encouraged you to look at what you are buying your children and look at who is featured in the books they are reading. Because the world those books may be opening up to them on the pages, may be reinforcing the fact that that world might not include them.

Detective Dot addresses this issue. It’s not only a great way of getting kids into coding, but also the main character is an inquisitive young girl, with endless intelligence. And she isn’t white, becoming an even greater role model for children, and helping young girls from all ethnicities to identify with her and realise their full potential.

All children can bond with the storyline, and the character helps to open up the world for children who are often excluded from coding and STEM subjects through stereotyping. This book is inspiring the next generation of coders, and it’s helping to ensure that the next generation of coders is more diverse and equal.

Find out more about the book HERE.

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Pint of Science is coming to Cardiff!

Do you like science? Do you like a pint? Well good news! The UK’s largest science festive, Pint of Science, is coming to Wales for the very first time – bringing some of the best scientists Cardiff has to offer to your local pub to share their knowledge. Come grab a drink and get geeky, listening to talks on topics from climate change to cancer research!

The festival is happening in 25 cities across the UK on 15th – 17th of May, bringing logic into your local, showcasing cutting-edge Welsh science. Pint of Science is making science accessible so that you can get to grips with a range of topics, hearing from some of the best in the industry; so that you can get to know more about things you are interested in or you can learn something completely new.

The line-up is looking amazing, with a range of fascinating science being shared – all you need is a ticket and a pint.

Cardiff Versus Cancer – Dr Matt Smalley and Professor Andrew Godkin – Half of all people in the UK will develop cancer during their lifetime and exciting research is being conducted into combatting this disease. Find out what Cardiff is doing about it!

Urine-ka! Recent Discoveries with Kidney Research UK – Dr Timothy Bowen and Professor Donald Fraser – Putting the ‘Pee’ in ‘Prognosis’, using urine for a cheap, non-invasive diagnosis method for early detection of chronic kidney disease.

Battling the Superbug Apocalypse – Dr Mark Toleman and Dr Cerith Jones – Keeping us with the Kardashians? More like keeping up with antibiotic resistance, amiright? Come along to O’Neills on St Mary’s Street to find out what Cardiff is doing to stop this.

Impacts of Past and Present Rises In CO2 – Professor Paul Pearson and Dr Sindia Sosdian – Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences is a world leader in the study of past Earth climate to help predict the future of human-induced climate change (a topic that a certain President could do with learning a bit more about). Pop in to this talk, and get informed!

Changing Tropical Marine Ecosystems – Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick and Dr Phil Renforth – Do you get excited about ecosystems? Or are you a fan of Sir David Attenborough’s Planet Earth? Become immersed in the biology and chemistry that can help to keep our ocean ecosystems.

Shaking and Sliding: How the Earth Moves – Dr David Thompson and Dr Claire Earlie – While the cocktail shakers are shaking, get a low down on the quakes and shakes of planet Earth.

Science of the Tiny – Dr Niklaas Buurma and Professor Philip Davies –  Up and atom! This talk is looking at how things work on a microscopic level.

What Would Life Look Like On Other Planets? – Dr Chris North and Professor Nigel Richards – If the talk about climate change has got you a little nervous, this talk also might be a follow up. Because before we think of moving out of Earth, it’s a good idea to see what life is out there on other planets.

An Element of Danger – Dr Ian Fallis  and Dr Joseph Beames – Explore the darker side of chemistry, from air pollution to chemical weapons.

Curious Connections – Dr Matthias Gruber and Professor Liam Gray – Get to know your neurones and connect with your connections. How can brain circuitry effect our everyday life?

A Trip Down Memory Lane – Dr Adele Pryce-Roberts and Professor Kim Graham – Our brain is a mysterious and delicate organ, with some of its features beginning to fail us is conditions like Alzheimer’s. Cardiff University is world-leading in Alzheimer’s research, come to the Little Man Coffee Co, Bridge Street, to see what they are doing to find out about future cures.

Sex, Drugs and Big Mutations – Professor Ian Jones and Professor George KirovWith 1 in 4 people being affected by mental health conditions during their lifetimes, treatment and understanding are more important than ever. How can recreational drugs treat these illnesses? And how is genetics linked to mental health?

For more information check out the Pint of Science website pintofscience.co.uk, or contact Cardiff publicist Michael Nairn, NairnMG@Cardiff.ac.uk.

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March for Science – Cardiff

April 22, World Earth Day, and the day tens of thousands of scientists all over the world took to the streets to March for Science. Scientists and supporters of science picked up placards and donned their white coats to join in the rally happening across the world, to address concerns for scientific research in the light of Donald Trump and Brexit.

I joined in the demonstration in Cardiff, starting at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay and marching to Techniquest Science Discovery Centre. First listening to some amazing speeches from science minds and the march’s organisers, addressing the issues that the community of scientists were here to support. The take home messages from Cardiff March for Science were:

Science in a global activity

“Science transcends boundaries, is it not a luxury but a global activity.” – Professor Richard Ketlow, Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society.

Everyone is interested in science and can bring us together, regardless of proximity. I thought this idea was particularly poignant in the light of Brexit and the triggering of article 50. Science depends on freedom of movement, as this allows scientists to work on the projects they are specialists in and that they can contribute to. As Britain leaves the EU, Britain moves into uncertain times for science. As science in the UK relies on immigration, and the potential for barriers in the movement of the science workforce is worrying.

Science in a global activity, and it thrives on collaboration.

Science and politics

Andrew Haigh, UKIP’s national organiser for Wales, sells a product called “Aerobic Oxygen”. It is an industrial-strength bleach product that is told to have health benefits if used when cleaning your teeth. This is a man who wants to influence policy in Wales, including science policy. This is obviously incredibly concerning.

The influence in science is crucial, as the miss-informed cannot create well-informed policies.

How can we expect politicians and policy-makers to form the best political frameworks for Britain, when they lack a full understanding of issues like climate change, research in health care and the science community? We need to integrate science research and policy-making, helping to make better political choices about the world we live in, which is shaped by science.

STEM the spread of incorrect information

We all know that bad news will spread more quickly than good news, and this has certainly been witnessed with incorrect facts spreading like wild fire. We all remember the so-called link between MMR and Autism, which now leaves many children with inoculations against measles, mumps and rubella.

Science should influence news and media, to prevent the spread of incorrect information and help generate an informed general public, who can make informed decisions.

Science and diversity

The number of women and girls in STEM has not changed, despite all the work that women in the science community are doing to help this. We need to continue striving towards equality and diversity in STEM, to better the workforce for women and help girls reach their full potential, but also better the quality of science research itself.

As hundred of marches for science happen across the globe, I hope this brings people’s attention to how misinformed politicians can lead to misinformed policies, which will not only impact scientific research community itself, but also how science research moulds our modern society.

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