Diana Garnham, Chief Executive of the Science Council
4 January 2011
Diana Garnham is Chief Executive of the Science Council. She is also on the Council of Nottingham University, a trustee of Sense About Science, the Spinal Research Trust and the Benevolent Society of Blues. She is an ardent campaigner for public engagement in science and for opening up science careers for all.
I am not a scientist myself. My specialism was international politics and after an MA in War Studies I did research into British attitudes to Japan. There is a link though! During my research I looked at how the decision to use atomic weapons in the Far East came about and the extent to which the wider and social impacts of using this new and powerful technology were considered at the time. Ever since then I have been interested in the social consequences of science.
Although my appointment as Chief Executive of the Science Council certainly raised some eyebrows at the time, I don’t think you have to be a scientist in my role. In some respects there is a gain as I have no loyalty to a single discipline and I can look at things a little bit from the outside – seeing our world as others see it rather than looking from the inside. The job is less about the science and more about the vision and leadership and the skills needed to help organisations to work together more effectively. I have almost 30 years experience of working with umbrella groups, fostering collaboration and partnership within sectors.
I worked for a while with the Council of Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament, which brought together 110 different perspectives. We worked collaboratively on a response to President Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ strategy, exploring both the potential of the technology and the potential social and political consequences. I went on to head up the Association of Medical Research Charities, which was just getting started. This was a classic umbrella group where we worked to bring the medical science closer to patients and user groups. There were some tough public engagement issues to work on, including the use of animals in medical research and the campaign to enable embryo STEM cell research in the UK.
I joined the Science Council in 2006. There are more than 30 professional bodies and learned institutions in membership from across science and its applications. Our aim is to enable the various organisations to be more aligned and more effective, and we also develop and maintain professional standards for practising scientists. A major achievement has been setting up the qualification ‘Chartered Scientist’ as a parallel to ‘Chartered Engineer’.
Gender equality is a priority at the Science Council and we are pleased that a good number of women have come forward for Chartered Scientist status - 29% of the register are women and 51% of those on the register aged 35 and under are women. So the future for CSci is gender balanced!
Different disciplines face different challenges – in the physical sciences, for instance, there is a serious lack of women. In the biosciences, entry numbers are up and it is a matter of finding ways to help those women stay in their careers and progress.
Last year I chaired the Department for Business, Innovation and Skill’s expert group looking at science careers. Our report raised a number of issues relevant to women and men – such as the lack of family friendly employment policies in many places of employment. There are a lot of factors that put young women off aiming for STEM careers (including in academia) and we need to find the solutions. We will need to engage with young people to understand their aspirations – I have never believed any teenager will set a course for a STEM career on the basis of being told their country needs them to!
Nurturing future generations of scientists is one of the Science Council’s main areas of work and we have an award winning web site www.futuremorph.org. We ask some big questions, such as what is a science career? If you move into management or mixed roles, have you stopped being a scientist? I think the answer is that many different kinds of scientist are needed, and often they are people who can mix their scientific expertise with other skills such as business development, communications, technology, innovation and more. Some of these jobs are with obvious science employers, but others are embedded in all sorts of organisation. Women are often very adept at evolving into these new kinds of role.
I think the vast majority of jobs in the 21st century will require high levels of science and technology expertise – indeed UKCES suggests it will be 58% of all newly created jobs. We need more STEM graduates, and we need more women to take part. Returning to one of my central themes, that if science is truly going to serve society, then it must involve and engage all society. My vision is that by 2025 the science and technology workforce will fully reflect the diversity of British society.