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Tales of five inspiring women navigating today’s life-career minefield!


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As of 2020, women represent less than 30% of researchers worldwide, with well-documented bias built-in to a STEM career, top positions often beyond their reach and manifest pay gaps, particularly for women of colour. Women have won only 5.4% of Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine, 3.8% in chemistry, and 1.9% in physics. Even in fields with greater gender-balance, the pipeline leaks as women leave and more men reach the top. Multiple barriers stymie the careers of women, particularly those that decide to have children. These include everyday work-place sexism, role stereotyping, devaluing, appearance judging, micro-aggressions and harassment dressed up as banter. The disappearance of older women at work is a visible trend. And in today’s pandemic, survey after survey demonstrate how COVID-19 has adversely affected women across all professions the most, citing forced unemployment and negative impacts in mental and physical well-being and work/life balance. This panel discussion spotlights five truly inspiring women offering insights into their specific journeys in the world of science-related work. Interviewed by Mozambique’s first female science minister (now UNESCO regional leader for the Latin America & Caribbean Region), we unravel their personal and career anecdotes, while distilling their best advice. We hear from a top Japanese science diplomat navigating the corridors of power and trade in Washington DC and a former car-company comms and bio-banking guru, now directing science communication at a punchy Research Council in Estonia. We experience the start-up joys and woes of a Canadian doctorate candidate helping build perhaps the first globally significant science policy-making network from Auckland. We see life through the eyes and words of a South African award-winning journalist at the FT, London and Wall Street Journal, New York, now communicating complex health issues for industry and the charity sector from Stockholm. On the flipside, we meet a Belarusian bench scientist researching autism and the brain, now throwing her entire team at COVID-19 pandemic responses for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. We experience first-hand how these remarkable women have zigzagged around the world. They moved abroad for education, work and love. They raised families while leaving others behind. They won promotions and demotions, awards and slap-downs in equal measure. They just keep going. With no slides or corporate logos, only unflinching honesty, we learn about these conscious choices made and why. The common thread is that each, in her own way, has had to overcome and, indeed, continues to overcome, the seen and unseen challenges of gender discrimination and lack of recognition in what remains a who-you-know, male-dominated world, particularly in science, technology and innovation. Some women pull the ladder up after them too. And as our speakers will testify, these challenges also apply to science journalism and communication, science business and the not-for-profit, academia and the direct and indirect civil service. That said, the common objective of our five mid-career ‘mompreneurs’ and ‘sheroes’ is to accentuate the positive. These five straight-talking, role-models want to engage and encourage today’s generation of young researchers, YouTubers and feisty feminists!

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