Spotlight on glass ceiling in science

The historic under-representation of women in science is explored in a new short documentary film and book.

The book tells the story of how the University’s female scientists have fought for equality.

Its account begins in the 1870s when riots broke out in the streets in protest against a female student’s attendance at a medical exam.

Progress on equality

Since then, many steps have been taken towards gender equality.

Today, an Edinburgh professor is the first female president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the School of Chemistry has been recognised with the Athena Swan Gold award, which acknowledges its efforts in supporting women.

However, parity has not yet been achieved, and the book shows that as women’s careers progress, they are more likely to leave the scientific arena for another sector.

Challenges faced

There is still a need for a culture shift and a move away from unconscious bias.
Professor Polly ArnoldSchool of Chemistry

The initiative, entitled ‘A Chemical Imbalance’, was funded by the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Prize awarded to Professor Polly Arnold, Crum Brown Chair of Chemistry at the University.

The project aims to highlight some of the persistent challenges faced by women.

Common themes include lack of maternity cover or available childcare, and women being assigned work that is less likely to improve their career prospects.

The shift from overt to unconscious bias is also discussed, in the context of recent research from Yale University.

This found that identical job applications were graded differently according to the sex of the candidate.

Informed debate

Professor Arnold hopes the project will contribute to the wider debate about how science can progress towards equality.

The film is available to stream for free online:

An electronic copy of the book is also be available to download.

The book was written by Cameron Conant, and the film was made by Siri Rødnes and Marie Lidén.