Imperial and Brazilian universities launch project to inspire women scientists


Scientist in lab

Imperial is working with universities in Brazil to inspire the next generation of women scientists.

The College has won funding from the British Council for its Women in Science: UK-Brazil Gender Equality Partnerships programme, to enable progress towards achieving gender equality in science, technology, higher education and research institutions in Brazil.

"We already have strong partnerships with institutions in Brazil and will be working with them to inspire the next generation of women scientists in the country.” Professor Camille Petit Imperial College London

Academics, researchers and staff from Imperial will work with colleagues at the Federal University of Ceara (UFC) and the University of Campinas (Unicamp) to develop ways to increase participation in STEM and improve career paths for women scientists.

The project also aims to engage with other universities in Brazil to improve representation across the country. The partnerships could play a key role in developing national and institutional policies on science and diversity

Research shows that just 30% of STEM undergraduates or graduates in Brazil are women, compared with 60% for those studying Health, Humanities and Linguistics, Arts and Languages. There are also fewer women at senior levels of research in the country and women receive far less scientific funding.

Project lead Professor Camille Petit, from the Department of Chemical Engineering, said: “Imperial has done a lot in recent years to improve gender equality at our campus by attracting more young women scientists and engineers and ensuring that career pathways are in place to retain them.

“We already have strong partnerships with institutions in Brazil and will be working with them to inspire the next generation of women scientists in the country.”

Professor Diana Cristina Silva de Azevedo, the project lead at Universidade Federal do Ceara, said: “There is increasing awareness in the Brazilian higher education community that the share of women in STEM careers must be more balanced.

"Incipient affirmative actions have been undertaken by research funding agencies, such as the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), but higher education institutions have no established policies and many of them still lack formal initiatives in equality, diversity and inclusion. This project is a great chance to learn from the achievements at Imperial and benefit from their experience with the Athena Swan Charter.”

Professor Ana Flavia Nogueira, the project lead at University of Campinas, said: "It will be important for our university and to CINE, the Center of Innovation on New Energies, which I am the current director, to learn from Imperial's experience and previous actions to improve the gender balance in both Institutions.

"We realised that along the scientific career, starting in the undergraduate course with the Brazilian Nacional Scientific Initiation Program, the number of women scientists decreases, and only a few women are in fact hired as faculty members. Even after being hired, career progress is much slower and only a few of them are promoted to full professors."

Progress in gender equality at Imperial

The College has worked to improve gender equality for many years. Imperial was a founding member of the Athena Swan Charter, a framework which is used across the globe to support and transform gender equality within higher education (HE) and research.

The Elsie Widdowson Fellowship has run since 2000 for academics at any career stage to concentrate fully on their research work on returning from maternity, adoption, surrogacy and/or shared parental leave, relieving them of teaching or administrative duties.

The Women in Engineering network provides an environment to discuss a range of topics including career progression, overcoming obstacles and recognising achievements.

The Springboard Women’s Development Programme offers all women staff members help to identify steps needed to accomplish specific personal and/or professional goals.

Imperial has embedded gender balance within its strategy, has set up a dynamic Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Centre, and flexible working is embedded within the College HR policies and procedures.

In 2019-2020, the proportion of women students was 38% for undergraduates, 47.5% for taught postgraduates, and 39% for research postgraduates.

Imperial and Brazil

The Imperial Brazil Forum formed in 2011, bringing together students and academic staff involved or interested in Brazilian issues or working with Brazilian institutions. It promotes collaboration and academic partnerships with Brazil.

Imperial has more than 70 students from Brazil and has a joint PhD programme between the Aeronautics Department and the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of São Paulo.

Imperial also hosts a Masters student scholarships for women in STEM from countries in the Americas, funded by the British Council.


Stephen Johns

Stephen Johns
Communications Division

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