Women in Healthcare and the Life Sciences: Yesterday, today and tomorrow

In the shadow of men

From the start of the modern biotechnology era women have been involved in many of its ground-breaking medical discoveries. Yet, despite their importance, the story of these pioneering female scientists remains largely untold. Those women's achievements have been largely overshadowed by their male colleagues, who have been more likely to have their names listed on patents, reach top positions in industry or academia and become Nobel Laureates.

This under-representation continues to this day. Despite the significant rise in the number of female graduates with life science degrees in the past three decades, few women gain leadership positions in the medical and bioscience fields in either academia or industry.

Telling the story of women

Contributing to the lack of women at the top of the medical and bioscience fields is the fact that most accounts of the rise of biomedical science neglect the role of women. In those accounts they are far more likely to be seen as wives and patients rather than scientists.

To address this gap in the narrative, we at WhatIsBiotechnology are developing a major project to foster greater public appreciation of the contribution women have made and continue to make to the life sciences and their applications in medicine. This is being done to commemorate the the 150th birthday of Marie Sklodowska Curie. Born in Poland on 7 November 1867, Marie Curie was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize and the first person to win it twice, first in physics and then in chemistry.

Championing the role of women

A core component of our project is the development of a multimedia digital exhibition. Using historical documents, photos, and material gathered through interviews and public engagement activities, this exhibition will examine the challenges and rewards women have faced and continue to face in the field. Hosted free online, the exhibition will have an integrated engagement platform for promoting discussions between female scientists, bio-entrepreneurs, young women and other key stakeholders.

The exhibition will be divided into a number of sections including:

'Against the odds - Marie Curie and those who trod in her footsteps up to World War II'

'Women engineers in the boiler room of the genetics revolution - from recombinant DNA to CRISPR/Cas9'

'The unsung heroes - the female laboratory technicians'

'Breaking down the gender barriers of industry - the rise of the female bioentrepreneur'

'Stories of individual women - in-depth profiles of key women involved in life sciences and biotechnology industry from the earliest days of the biotechnology revolution'

Some of the women we have already profiled can be found here.

Click here to see a timeline of initiatives implemented to promote gender equality.

Click here to see a timeline of some some key biomedical discoveries in which women played a pivotal role.

We need your help

Aimed at inspiring the next generation of female scientists we are encouraging women scientists at different stages in their careers to participate in this project. We are inviting them to share their experiences and get involved in guiding the exhibition's content.

Our aim is to capture a rich set of insights from as a wide a pool of women as possible so that the exhibition can reflect some of the experiences, hopes and aspirations of women who have been active in the field and who are just starting on their career path.

Click here to contribute your views and to see reflections from women in the life sciences and healthcare who have already contributed.

Project leader

The project is being led by Lara Marks, DPhil, Oxon, Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology. Dr Marks is a well established academic and the managing editor of WhatIsBiotechnology.org. Click here for her profile.

Project Support

The PhRMA Foundation has kindly provided seed funding for this project. We welcome further donations to support the full roll out of the project. Click here for more information about how you can support this project.

Contact us about this project

Please feel free to reach out to if you have any questions about the project.

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