The Warwick alumni closing the gender gap in STEM fields
Warwick has amassed over 250,000 alumni, many of whom have achieved incredible accomplishments in their respective fields. Many STEM graduates have gone on to become celebrated and successful faculty members of various universities. This includes Robert Calderbank (Mathematics BSc, 1975) who was the former Dean of Natural Sciences at Duke University and winner of the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal as well as the Claude E. Shannon Award; Colin Cooper (Biochemistry BSc, 1970s), a professor of cancer genetics at the University of East Anglia; Alan Hywel Jones (Physics BSc, 1991; MSc in Materials Characterisation, 1993; PhD, 1997), a principal research fellow, materials scientist, inventor, and senior consultant at Sheffield Hallam University; Leslie Valiant (Computer science PhD, 1974), who is the T. Jefferson Coolidge Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Harvard University and winner of the Turing Award; and Ian Stewart (Mathematics PhD, 1969), a professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick!
UNESCO reported that 24% of STEM employees were women in 2019
Although these are all great achievements, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that all of these academics are examples of white men who achieved their degrees pre-2000s. The gender disparity in STEM is notorious and makes it harder for women to achieve the same level of success as their male counterparts. The 2020 fact sheet from the ‘Women in Science’ UNESCO Institute for Statistics states that across the world, only 30% of researchers in 2017 were women. At the time the aforementioned men were making their mark, this figure would have been much lower. Thus, it makes sense that no Warwick woman were notable for their STEM academic contributions, according to Wikipedia. In industry, UNESCO reported that 24% of STEM employees were women in 2019. Whilst this is an increase from 21% in 2016, it is still considerably low. This is why I’d like to highlight some inspiring women who are at the forefront of their careers and killing it in their respective STEM industries.
Yvonne Udenwa is one of these women. She received an MSc in analytical science from Warwick in 2011 and is now a Senior Associate in EU regulatory affairs strategy at Pfizer. When asked what she enjoyed most about her work in the pharmaceutical industry, she says that it’s “rewarding to play a part in developing a product that can potentially benefit millions of people”.
Another inspiring alumnus is Dr Afiniki Akanet who graduated in 2012 from Warwick Medical School with an MB ChB Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery and a PGA in Understanding Childhood in 2014. She is a GP and writer whose written work focuses on mental health. When asked why she is so passionate about mental health, Afiniki states that during her time as a junior doctor she “met some inspirational and passionate mental health nurses and doctors” and that she wants to inspire “people to live happier, productive lives”.
Natasha Boulding (Chemistry MChem, 2015) is the Co-Founder and CEO of Sphera, an award-winning company which develops carbon negative, lightweight aggregates which utilise waste plastics that are hard to recycle and would otherwise be incinerated. She has attended COP26 and is pushing for net zero and sustainability, saying that “sustainability needs to be woven into everything we do if we want to reach net zero”.
The lack of female leaders in high profile STEM positions leads to the lack of girls taking up STEM subjects
In engineering, Louise Hardy (Engineering (Civil), BSc, 1988) has worked on numerous internationally renowned construction projects such as London 2012’s Olympic Park and High Speed One (HS1). She was named in one of the Financial Times’ Top 100 Women of Influence in Engineering and received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the European Women in Construction and Engineering Awards in 2019. On encouraging more women to take up STEM subjects, she mentions the importance of showing young girls female role models in STEM careers and that they are being engaged and excited by STEM.
It is true that the lack of female leaders in high profile STEM positions leads to the lack of girls taking up STEM subjects. However, with women like Yvonne, Afiniki, Natasha, and Louise demonstrating that it’s possible, we are taking steps in the right direction to balance the gender gap in STEM. Taking your passions for STEM and spinning it into your career is a huge feat for anyone. I believe everyone should be commended for this as they are all making contributions which improves lives and drives humanity forwards.