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We need more girls in here… but project showing real face of Manchester’s women in science rejects ‘sexed-up’ ad

By Colin Henrys & Aimee Howarth

A sexed-up, ‘unrealistic’ advert involving scantily-clad ladies is prompting a Manchester group to showcase what real women in science look like and the important work they do in a recruitment bid.

Science Grrl formed in June 2012 to display the real jobs and talents of women in science in protest at the European Commission advert on the subject.

After already launching a calendar showing real female scientists at work, Science Grrl will now appear alongside Manchester Girl Geeks at the Museum of Science and Industry on Saturday, March 9, for International Women’s Day.

Dr Heather Williams, 35, a senior medical physicist for Central Manchester University Hospitals and Director of Science Grrl, explained the group wants to highlight their interesting jobs.

“We were quite ticked off at the imagery of the advert,” she said. “It did not represent what scientists do, or even look like!

“We wanted to show what real scientists did, which is why we launched the calendar of images. We pulled together in all of four months and we sold over 900 of them.

“We want science presented as a positive and interesting thing. There are an awful lot of us who do very interesting work.

“There’s a lot of good stuff going on already so we wanted to showcase what we are already doing in science.”

The theme for Manchester’s International Women’s Day celebrations this year is women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Science Grrl and Manchester Girl Geeks will present workshops at the museum as part of the celebrations and also give talks about their work, while dressed in full uniform.

Dr Williams explained the group were keen to jump on the opportunity given the theme this year, and hope to present new role models for the future generations.

“That was a total gift really,” she said. “We wanted to make a real fuss about International Women’s Day.

“It’s a showcase for what we are already doing and making new people aware of that.

“People have told us they love that we’re being so positive and showcasing a very positive set of role models.

“We are trying to get a lot of people early in their careers because the go-to person for women in physics really is Athene Donald but she’s old enough to be my mum!”

Only 5.3% of employed women work in STEM occupations, according to the UK Resource Centre, but mechanical engineer Dr Georgina Harris insists the overall visibility of the industry is a bigger problem.

Dr Harris – appointed Divisional Head of Mechanical Engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University in February – said: “I don’t necessarily think it’s a gender issue. We’re just not making the opportunities visible.

“We have few real role models in engineering, and in physics perhaps one or two. Most people will name Isambard Kingdom Brunel and George Stephenson but that’s it. We need really to have current role models.

“Looking at things like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice, they are exciting and open up the business world into the public eye. We do not have enough of that public exposure in my humble opinion.

“People sometimes think it’s not very glamorous and that turns off women more than men but most of them cannot imagine the things they will get to do.”

An ambassador for STEM and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Dr Harris revealed her grandfather taught her to solder when she was four years old.

She has worked on the world’s largest radio telescope, developed diesel reduction packages and helps her students design and build racing cars, locomotives and planes.

“In my experience a scientific career is a fabulous thing. I’ve travelled all over the world and still learn something new every single day,” she said.

“We’re solving world problems bit by bit and for me that’s the best job in the world. I can’t imagine having a better job and we just need to show that to everyone else.”

Limited spaces for the Manchester Girl Geeks workshops on Saturday March 9 are available at http://mancggtp-sciencegrrl.eventbrite.com/ but entry to the museum is free all day.

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