A recent report by the Commons Select Science and Technology Committee has found that women are significantly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at a professional level. At Kent Science Park (KSP), this is not the case. Over 50% of the people who work at KSP are female, and of those working within the science fields, a number of these are either owners of companies or work at a senior level within them.
Both on and off Kent Science Park, women have made some outstanding contributions to scientific research, although more often than not, these achievements have been overlooked. The notion that science is a ‘male-only’ profession is something that the tenants of KSP are keen to change and there are now a number of women on-site who are leading the way in the science and technology sector.
Giedre Brandao is a pioneering force on the Park. Her business AbBaltis provides biological materials to the In Vitro diagnostics industry and other research organisations. Beginning life as a one-woman start-up, AbBaltis has grown dramatically since Giedre moved to KSP in 2011. She has since tripled her space on the site and now employs five people, four of whom are females.
Giedre commented, “Whenever I go to a trade show, people expect me to be a man. They don’t understand how you can have a business, be interested in science and have a family at the same time. AbBaltis is a strong example that it can be done. Most of my staff have families and my priority is creating a flexible environment where they can have a career too. In my eyes, this support needs to exist everywhere. It should also be made clearer that a science career is rewarding. At the end of the day, science saves lives. More patients are diagnosed because of the kits we help develop.”
One of the most recent additions to the Park is Aesop, whose Senior Development Chemist, Dr. Rebecca Watkinson works at KSP in their UK R&D Laboratory. Rebecca has worked for the company for almost six years, and has recently returned to the UK from their Head Office in Australia to develop products on this side of the world.
Although now cosmetics-focussed, Rebecca is a chemist at heart and holds an honours degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Kent. She commented on her experiences in the industry, and what she thinks will encourage more females to explore it, “While I was incredibly fortunate to never face any obstacles in getting to my current role, there are plenty perceived to exist. The fundamental problem is that often abstract concepts in chemistry are taught so that young women can’t see how science can translate into real life i.e. its practical application. In the cosmetics industry we have the opportunity to make that connection, as it is clear to see that chemistry has a use and an endpoint – that it is key to the development of many of the products we use everyday.”
“A crucial part of getting young girls engaged with science is planting the seed early. Kent Science Park holds a ‘Science is Fun’ event for primary school children, which is a great example of this. At a young age, they have an opportunity to be inspired, and this is a significant factor in creating and maintaining an interest in science. Growing up in the South East was my inspiration, as I was surrounded by the significant scientific contributions made by the likes of Givaudan (formerly Quest International), Coty, GSK, Pfizer, and more recently at KSP. These need to be emphasised and highlighted more in the media.”
At only 19 years old, Kirby Austin is one of the youngest female scientists on the Park and works as an Apprentice Lab Technician at ALS Food and Pharmaceutical. ALS specialise in the comprehensive testing and analysis of food, water, agrochemicals and animal feed.
Kirby agreed that there is a lack of understanding in the application of science, but that attitudes are slowly changing, “Having just left school, I can honestly say that we are being encouraged to pursue STEM subjects. However, the problem lies in the way science is portrayed in the media, as people still automatically envision a crazy scientist of male gender. There is little being done to translate science as an abstract concept into the exciting careers that exist within its field.”
“Most people assume you need a degree to work within the science industry. My apprenticeship is proof that this isn’t true and that you can learn by getting experience. Being passionate and being interested is key to being successful, no matter what gender you are.”
Julie Coleman, Resident Lecturer at the Kent Science Resource Centre, which is also on the Park, concluded by adding, “It is outstanding to see so many strong females working at Kent Science Park across such a broad spectrum of science and research. Giedre, Rebecca and Kirby are all exceptional role models, and I hope that their work will encourage other women to consider science and technology careers in the future. This is crucial for both innovation and the UK’s economic future. With the support offered by Kent Science Park and educational facilities like our own, a career in science, technology or engineering is possible and is within every woman’s reach.”