4 November 2014, 170 Queen's Gate

It is wonderful to be with you today to discuss this issue that is very dear to us all.

Like most of you, I know first-hand the challenges and joys that come from being a woman who at an early age fell in love with science, engineering and technology. When I was a student, women concentrating in a STEMM field were following the path less taken. And although things have improved significantly over the past many years, women are still underrepresented in STEMM.  We are underrepresented as students, as faculty members, as entrepreneurs and as leaders.  

There has been progress, but there is the need for more progress.  And there is a need for a greater sense of urgency.

All of us here share a common hope and goal: we want to accelerate the pace of change.  We want the path we took to be more heavily traveled.  We want to encourage talented women to study math, science, engineering and medicine, we want them to become leaders; leaders in government, in business and in academia who will teach and inspire the next generation of young women. 

Why This Matters

We want this because we know how important it is to the future of the world. 

In this year’s Dimblely lecture, Christine Lagarde spoke about “A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century.”  One of the areas she highlighted was the need for more inclusion and opportunity in the economic world, and specifically the need for more gender equality.  She pointed to the boost to national per capita incomes that would come if women participated in the labor force to the same extent as men.  In the Middle East and North Africa the per capita income would increase 27 percent.  In Europe and Central Asia, it would increase by 14 percent.  She describes gender equality as a global economic game changer.    

Our efforts to increase gender equality in STEMM are an important part of this larger need.

A recent survey by the Office of National Statistics found that in 2014 women account for just under 13 percent of STEMM occupations in the UK.  When healthcare occupations are excluded, this drops to just under 9 percent.  Although this is an improvement from 2012, these are still modest numbers. 

More women in STEMM will be an economic game changer, here in the UK and globally.    

As importantly, more women in STEMM will also be a societal game changer.   Solutions to the complex problems facing the world today depend upon collaborative STEMM research and the creative applications of that research.    Collaborative teams of men and women from different backgrounds are more creative and more productive than homogenous teams. We need more women in STEMM fields because we need all the best minds working together. 

So how do we go about doing this?  What are the areas that need our focus? 

I would like to suggest five things that could make a difference. 

I will talk about the importance of:

Collaboration, role models, mentors, recognition and funding.

Need for Collaboration

We need to address this issue like we address other complex and multidimensional problems: through collaboration.  Here are four dimensions to this collaboration:

1.We need to collaborate across disciplines.  A report released last month by the US Small Business Association Office of Advocacy found uneven increases in women STEM PhD enrollment across fields.  The same is true for STEM occupations.  Those disciplines where enrollment is lagging, such as mechanical engineering, may have lessons to learn from those disciplines that are close to achieving gender parity, such as biological sciences.

 2. We need to collaborate across institutions. We should share the strategies that work best.  We should explore opportunities to cooperate in outreach, in research and in education.     

3. We need to collaborate across geographies.  This is a global issue, not just a UK, European, or a North American issue.  The good news is that there are a variety of efforts underway in many countries to increase the number of women studying, teaching, working and leading in STEMM.  We need to share ideas about programs and policies.  There is much to learn. 

4. And—very importantly—we need to collaborate across sectors.  Academia, government and business all have a role to play.  It is only through our combined efforts that we will make significant and sustainable progress. It is important to look at untended consequences of tax policies, maternity leave, child-care arrangements, and reward structures to see whether we are sometimes inadvertently discouraging women from certain professions or areas of study.

The Importance of Role Models

Perhaps some of you share a feeling of mine that we did not seek leadership but became leaders rather indirectly or even accidentally.  We aimed to be the best mathematicians, scientists, doctors and engineers we could be, and, at some point, by doing that, by focusing on what we do well, we became leaders.  Of course, it was more than that.  We benefited from the examples set by the women who came before us. They are role models.

Women have distinguished themselves as scientists, engineers, mathematicians and physicians for well over a century.  We have a noble and distinguished lineage. There are many women to admire.  I think of historical role models such as Marie Curie and Grace Murray Hopper.

We also admire and learn from role models today. Take Jocelyn Bell Burnell and her discovery of evidence for the radio pulsar; I am sure she inspired everyone when she spoke at the College last year; or the 2009 Nobel prize winning biochemist Elizabeth Blackburn who is always so gracious and modest when describing her “aha moment”. They are trailblazers and we benefit from their accomplishments and their perseverance. It is our duty to honor their legacy.

A threshold need for role models is to encourage more young women to at least give STEMM a try. In preparatory schools and at university women are still underrepresented in STEMM subjects.  At least part of the reason for this is the negative perception that many young woman have about STEMM. Some have referred to this as the “image barrier.”

Research by Julie Bentley, the CEO of GirlGuiding, found that 62 percent of young woman aged 11-21 years think that science and engineering are “more for boys.”  Over half of the young women surveyed said that they think science and engineering is too hard for them.  

Young women need role models.  They need to see that STEMM isn’t just for boys.  They need to hear directly from women like us about the personal satisfaction that a career in STEMM provides. They need to hear about the excitement of STEMM research and the importance and excitement to be working on the world’s most complex problems. They need to be inspired. 

We need to be alert for opportunities to communicate with young women.  We need to make ourselves available to them.  To encourage them.  To answer their questions. To inspire them.  To light their paths. 

If we are to increase the interest of young women in STEMM , we—you and I and our colleagues around the world- need to be visible role models and advocates. 

The Importance of Mentors

Of course getting women involved in STEMM is but a first step.  Helping them become successful requires more direct and active involvement. Women need mentors. 

The SBA study underscored the importance of faculty mentors.  Female graduate students are more likely to enroll in programs having more woman faculty. There is an expectation by women students that women professors will be there for them.  We need to be conscious of and responsive to this expectation.  Ideally, they will find that the men will be there for them too. 

Christina Chase, the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, also sees mentors as critical to increasing entrepreneurship among women.  In a recent article she was quoted as saying: “We could certainly use more women entrepreneurs. There are no clear, easy fixes, but from my perspective, it means mentoring young women to know it’s possible, giving them the confidence to take riskier paths and the tools to de-risk those paths.”

Great mentors do not have to be women.  We benefit greatly from the guidance, wisdom and mentorship of men. I benefited from wonderful mentors over the years.  One of the most important was Chuck Vest.

Chuck was president of MIT and he recruited me to serve as vice president for research and associate provost in 2001. He supported me in my new positon.  And by example he taught me to be a leader. I saw in Chuck qualities I always wanted to emulate – he would use cute New England terms like “tough sledding” or “navigating the shoals” yet he always sought to work through tough problems and to keep the dialog going.  I often think to myself “what would Chuck do”? Chuck Vest was a friend and mentor.  He was also one of the true forces behind gender equality in STEMM.   

I knew of Chuck’s reputation as a leader before I arrived at MIT because of something that had happened a few years before.  

During the mid-90s Nancy Hopkins, a distinguished professor of biology at MIT, complained that she and other women faculty and researchers were victims of systematic, institutionalized discrimination.  Chuck didn’t become defensive.  He didn’t feel put on the spot.  He demonstrated leadership.  He formed a committee, with Nancy as the chair, to investigate the issue of gender inequality at MIT.  Chuck endorsed their findings and led MIT to assess and address gender equality across the institute. That led to a nation-wide, then worldwide dialog on the issue.  It is a dialog that we continue today. 

Mentors are leaders who teach leaders.

The Need for Recognition

At Imperial, we recently launched the Althea-Imperial Programme to recognise the innovative approach, entrepreneurial spirit and leadership skills of female undergraduates and postgraduates at Imperial.  The programme provides an opportunity for our female students to develop their entrepreneurial and innovative ideas and to see an innovative project through to fruition.

I think this holds great promise.  It provides support through mentoring.  Just as importantly, it provides a welcome mat and recognition for young entrepreneurs. It will help shine a spotlight on the adventure and excitement of turning ideas into reality.  We have received over 70 applications for the programme.

Another important recognition from Imperial College are the Julia Higgins Medal and Awards, named in honour of Professor Dame Julia Higgins, a leading professor and role model to me and others. These awards are awarded annually to recognise individuals and departments that have made a significant contribution to the support of academic women at the College.

Recognition provides visibility to role models, provides an opportunity to say “thanks” and shows the world what men and women can do towards this cause.  We need more recognition, more idols, more spotlights to showcase leadership.

The Importance of Funding

Entrepreneurs with great idea need not only the support of friends, role models and mentors.  They need capital to turn their dreams into reality. Venture capital is especially important.

Since 2008, all of the biggest venture capital investments in startups went to companies founded by men.    Only 15 percent of the US companies receiving VC investment in 2011-2013 had a woman on the executive team. This is actually a sign of progress.  In 1999 it was fewer than 5 percent. 

Only 2.7 percent of the startups receiving VC during this period had a female CEO.

The current reality is that companies with exclusively male executive teams are more than four times as likely to get VC funding than those with a woman on the team.

There are plenty of woman with creative entrepreneurial ideas.  But there is underrepresentation of women in venture capital.  

When VC firms are talking about where to put their money, women need to be part of the conversation. Currently we are not. 

The Babson College report, Women Entrepreneurs 2014: Bridging the Gender Gap in Venture Capital found that only 6 percent of partners at US VC firms are women.

The Babson study calls on the VC industry to do more to recruit and promote women investors to partner level roles.  This is important because the same report found that VC firms with female partners are three times more likely to invest in companies with female CEOs.

There are positive signs. 

Last weekend’s FT Weekend Magazine was a special issue about Silicon Valley and had an article entitled: “Silicon Valley: what every female founder needs to know”. In it Caroline Daniel described a trip that 17 British Tech CEO’s took to Silicon Valley. 

They note that the new VC firm, Aspect Ventures is run by two prominent American women and another California VC, Alexis de Raadt St James, has launched Merian Venture Partners, a $100m fund to invest exclusively in women-led businesses.  Alexsis is also the founder of Althea Foundation and the benefactor responsible for our Althea-Imperial programme.  Alexsis understands the need to recognize young talented entrepreneurial women and also to provide funding for new ventures run by women.               

We are on the right path.  Women in STEMM are gaining ground in the classroom, in the laboratory, on faculties and in the boardroom.  The momentum is there.  The need is there. And the time is right. 

There is much to do and there are many ways to contribute. We can support collaboration, we can provide and promote role models, we can be mentors, we can provide recognition, we can generate funding.

This is good news.  As women we like a challenge and enjoy hard work.  We welcome the chance to contribute to something we believe in and something where we can make a difference.

Thank you.