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Women high achievers in the limelight

Press release issued: 8 March 2006

Bristol University’s Professor Kathy Sykes is one of six women of achievement featured in a contemporary photographic collection that opens today, International Women's Day.

Bristol University’s Professor Kathy Sykes is one of six women of achievement featured in a contemporary photographic collection that opens today, International Women's Day.

The exhibition celebrates the outstanding achievements of six world class British women working in the fields of science, engineering and technology (SET) who have achieved leadership positions - whether as leaders of organisations, of their own enterprise or leaders in their field.

Commissioned by the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET (UKRC) and executed by acclaimed photographer, Robert Taylor, the collection offers a personal and unexpected interpretation of these groundbreaking women. 

On show for the first time at the British Library at the UKRC's 2nd annual conference, the visiting collection will be enlarged each year to create a comprehensive and inspiring legacy for future generations.

The Rt. Hon Tessa Jowell MP, Minister of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equality said: "We know that 70 per cent of women with science, engineering and technology qualifications are not working in these professions, so it is particularly appropriate to celebrate those that are making significant contributions. 

“I hope by launching this exhibition on International Women's Day it will not only inspire and encourage more women into SET, helping to create a more equitable and diverse workforce in the UK but also ensure that women in these fields are included and celebrated as part of our scientific heritage."

The women featured in the collection come from a variety of backgrounds, united by their outstanding contributions to pioneering work, for which many of them have received international recognition.  The photographed women were nominated to take part in the exhibition earlier this year.  A judging panel selected two finalists to be photographed in three categories: ‘Scientific Discovery and SET Innovation’, ‘Science Communication’ and ‘Breaking through the Glass Ceiling into Leadership’.

Professor Sykes who holds the Collier Chair for Public Engagement of Science and Engineering at Bristol was selected in the Science Communication category. 

She is a leading figure in Britain promoting public engagement in science and is a regular presenter of BBC's Rough Science and other BBC science/society programmes, most recently a series for BBC TWO on alternative medicine.

The supply of scientists and engineers is critical to the UK economy,  which is targeting an increase in research and development investment to  2.5% of GDP by 2010.  Despite forming half of the working population women represent just 24.1% of those working in SET and of all managers, only 12.5% are women.  This is an average and hides even more extremes within certain areas such as physics.  The recruitment, retention and progression of women in SET are considered intrinsic to future success.

The portrait collection will be exhibited at various public buildings and galleries throughout the UK, exhibiting opportunities include the  National Portrait Gallery, Welsh Assembly and Westminster Hall.

The other scientists featured in the exhibition are:

  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell CBE, Visiting Chair in Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, whose research on pulsars was recognised by a Nobel Prize to her supervisor
  • Professor Wendy Hall CBE, Head of School of Electronics & Computer Science at the University of Southampton, one of the world's leading  computer scientists  
  • Dr Maggie Aderin, Senior Project Manager of Space Science at SIRA  Technology Ltd, who runs a public engagement company in her spare time  aimed at improving the participation of girls and ethnic minorities in science
  • Dr Julia Goodfellow CBE, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and  Biological Research Council, the first female chief executive of any UK  research council
  • Rebecca George OBE, who manages IBM's Central Government Business in the UK and is one of the most senior women in the 25,000 strong company.


The UKRC's 2nd Annual Conference, entitled Gender & Leadership, will tackle the issues contributing to the under-representation of women in  science, engineering and technology careers, particularly for women reaching senior management and leadership positions.  It will draw on organisations that have benefited from women SET leaders, the expertise and experience of women in leadership positions, and current research on women in SET leadership.

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