A Little Something For the Ladies

Or how, in one well-meaning easy move, you can completely undermine your aim and alienate most of your audience…

Lord Drayson, the science minister is in the news today with a debate tonight with Ben Goldacre on the state of science journalism in the UK – it’s also being webcast through the Times Higher website from 7pm.

However, it was Lord Drayson’s recent performance at the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (UKRC) Conference which came under scrutiny from someone I met recently who attended this event. The UKRC works to tackle the under-representation of women in science, engineering and technology, and whilst Lord Drayson had some positive things to say about presenting modern female scientific role models for younger girls, it sounds like he blew it within the first 5 minutes.

Here’s the report from my contact, who, for professional reasons, has wisely opted to remain anonymous:

“Looking forward to the upcoming Drayson vs Goldacre debate on ‘Science reporting: is it good for you?’. I have half-heartedly been following the debate about the state of popular science reporting in the mainstream media on Twitter. But I have to confess I am biased since I heard Lord Drayson, minister of State for Science and Innovation, speak earlier this year. Although the event took place in March (which I realise is the Middle Ages on blog timescales) my blood temperature still rises when I think of his address to the conference  of the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET (Science, engineering and technology).

That day we discussed the ‘leaky pipeline’: the fact that for many SET subjects there are now (almost) as many women at undergraduate level as men but that at higher academic levels the percentage come down to single figures and women are very under-represented in senior management roles in SET based companies. We lamented the lack of female scientist role models.

It was therefore bizarre that Lord Drayson opened the conference by telling us about the day he had fallen in love with his wife (he obviously thought that would go down well with the largely female audience). The irony that his wife WAS a scientist then, but now looked after his children and his racing team seemed lost on him. He also didn’t mention her by name, adding fuel to the role model debate. His comments are, not surprisingly, glossed over in the conference brochure. It will be interesting to see how he stands up in the debate against Ben Goldacre.”


Luckily, the UKRC website has lots of other inspirational case studies and blog posts on how women are being successful in science, engineering and technology (current blog post is from a vet who’s invented a haptic cow – go on, you know you want to click).

If you want to hear what Lord Drayson actually said (which starts and ends well, just dips a little with his lovely anecdote about looking like he was interested in his future wife’s research project while figuring out how he could get her to go on a date with him…) you can download the podcast here. Warning: it took an age for me to download it, but if you’re keen, he starts talking from about 10 and a half minutes in.


2 comments on “A Little Something For the Ladies

  1. I was there too when Lord Drayson spoke and can only agree that his pitch, even though well-intentioned, went down like a lead balloon with lots of women quizzically looking at each other as why he was talking about how he wooed his wife away from her scientific career. It reminded me of when I talk to some men about the work I do coaching women in male-dominated fields and they reply rather patronisingly, something along the lines of “oh, I LOVE women…they do so much to keep my personal life ticking over”

  2. Hi Suzanne

    Thanks for your comment. Good to have my contact’s views corroborated – she was positively fizzing about his comments. However, I suspect she hasn’t worked in manufacturing as I have, where you have to learn to smile indulgently at that sort of stuff and hold your own in all male professional company (which can also be great fun).


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