Dr John S. Young
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Associate Professor / Reader in Urology, University of Portsmouth
We need wholesale change of mindsets and systems but that will require us all to challenge our views and be prepared to try new ways of communicating and of working.
I'm scientist and have two leadership and management roles at a UK University. So that's three job titles (!): Associate Professor / Reader in Urology; Associate Head (Innovation and Impact); Acting Director of the Institute of Biomedical and Biophysical Sciences - all at the University of Portsmouth. As a Research Scientist, I lead a group that are trying to develop better ways to diagnose and treat chronic, impactful disorders of the urinary bladder - disorders that limit the lives of millions of people in the UK alone. As Associate Head (Innovation and Impact), I work with a multidisciplinary team to ensure that our scientists' discoveries are translated into innovations - such as new drugs, diagnostic tests and services - to achieve patient benefit. And as Acting Director of the Institute of Biomedical and Biophysical Sciences, my primary goal is to create and develop networks, engaging with people in different professions, such as doctors, industry scientists, pharmacists, manufacturers, etc.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
Every day offers the possibility to make a difference. When I'm teaching (often about something perceived as 'scary' such as metabolic biochemistry, statistics or clinical trials), it's wonderful to demystify and enlighten. We should never be scared of learning something new, but often we are. By building up the complexity, taking an empathetic approach and using real-world examples to explain *why* we learn what we do, I hope to reframe students' perceptions, and to genuinely engage. In my research, I chose to apply my PhD in Neuroscience to the field of Urology research, where so little is understood, despite disorders and diseases that affect so many. Working with an international network of collaborators, our group has had some really interesting discoveries that we're now working hard to integrate into mainstream healthcare. That's pretty motivating! I also chose to take on leadership and management roles where there's the possibility to change cultures and help others achieve their own successes - by providing support that comes in many different forms. I find it really exciting to work across my University to identify areas of good practice (that we can then promote) and also areas that need support.
HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE WOMEN IN STEM?
I do a number of small things but, in truth, I'd love to do more because I recognise that there are still far too many barriers for women in STEM. As the lead of a research group since 2010, it's of paramount importance to me to provide my female colleagues with opportunity, such as: to learn new skills; to be the one to go to the conference if they wish; to be part of the discussions / negotiations with external parties; etc. Alongside providing opportunity, I see huge value in mentorship - so both provide this and encourage female colleagues to seek external mentorship opportunities. In leadership roles, I work with teams to address imbalances of a number of protected characteristics, including female gender. I co-authored a (successful) Athena SWAN application and am currently part of University-wide Equality and Diversity group. What this all means might be distilled to bettering our understanding of what barriers there are for females and trying to remove these barriers - though I suspect that this oversimplifies things!
WHAT DO YOU THINK SHOULD BE DONE TO ENCOURAGE MORE GENDER DIVERSITY WITHIN STEM?
There's still a lot more to be done to understand barriers for women. I'm aware that many senior leadership positions aren't seen as attractive for women, for a number of reasons. For some, the nature of those roles simply isn't compatible with non-professional responsibilities, such as the caring for children or elderly relatives. We must address this. Despite working in this area for a number of years, I'm afraid that I have more questions than answers. Are managers and promotions' panels inadvertently creating assessment criteria that discriminate against females? Do our systems - largely developed by men for a largely male workforce - really provide a level playing-field for women? There are experts in these areas and many examples of excellent practice in other disciplines. We really must listen more if we're serious about achieving gender diversity.
BEST ADVICE FOR OTHER ADVOCATES?
We need wholesale change of mindsets and systems but that will require us all to challenge our views and be prepared to try new ways of communicating and of working. My experience of leadership, management and organisational change has highlighted many examples of resistance to change. My advice would therefore to be resilient to protestations and create positive momentum in order to overcome inertia.