The role of women in biotechnology

Women in biotechnology: timeline of key initiatives

A timeline of policies implemented to promote gender equality in the biomedical sciences.

1957-01-01T00:00:00+00001970-01-01T00:00:00+0000Signed by President Nixon, the key architect of the legislation was Bernice Sandler. She was a part-time lecturer at University of Maryland who was denied tenure-track positions three times. This was despite her success in being short-listed. Each time it was claimed she was ‘too strong for a woman’ to be appointed. 1972-06-23T00:00:00+0000The call followed an investigation undertaken by Bernice Sandler into sexual harassment of students in higher education institutions. She was an American women's rights activist who was instrumental in getting Title IX passed, a US Law that prevented any education programme receiving Federal financial assistance discriminating on the basis of sex. 1980-08-01T00:00:00+00001988-08-16T00:00:00+0000Recommends: 1) appointment of equal opportunity commissioners at all universities and research institutions; 2) establish job placement programmes for women scientists; 3) compensation for disadvantages due to childcare; introduce flexible working hours 1989-01-01T00:00:00+00001990-01-01T00:00:00+0000Published as ‘Realising our Potential: A Strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology’ (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 1993).1993-01-01T00:00:00+0000Participants come from European Commission, Member States and European Parliament. Key issues raised: 1) women do not have good access to decision-making in scientific research funding; 2) difficulties women face as result of inflexibility in career structures and lack of childcare; 3) need for positive action and integration of equal opportunities in science and technology.1993-02-15T00:00:00+0000Recommends 1) Government provide more childcare services and help with costs and facilitate schemes to encourage women to return to sciences after having a family; 2) Government and employers should set targets of at least 25% women in public appointments and senior position in SET by 2000; 3) Encourage greater media coverage of women’s contributions to SET. ‘The rising tide: A report on women and science, engineering and technology’, (London: HMSO). 1994-01-01T00:00:00+0000Study conducted by 3 tenured women. At time there were only 15 tenured women in 6 departments in MIT School of Science versus 194 men. 1994-06-01T00:00:00+0000Study revealed senior MIT faculty women tended to feel more marginalised than junior faculty and that women with children felt family demands were potential obstacle to career advancement. Evidence showed that percentage of women faculty in School of Science had not increased for at least a decade. 1996-01-01T00:00:00+0000Analysis undertaken by Christine Wenneras and Agnes Wold revealed inherent discrimination in peer review process against women applications in biomedical field. They published their results as 'Nepotism and sexism in peer-review', Nature, 387 (1997) 341-3. 1997-05-22T00:00:00+0000German Council of Science recommends the State and universities and research organisations provide adequate child care services and make appointment procedures gender-neutral to improve number of women in higher positions within science1998-01-01T00:00:00+00001998-01-01T00:00:00+0000Higher education institutions required to present plans of action for equality and collect data on distribution of scientific personnel by gender. Includes giving child rearing allowance for young women and men.1998-03-01T00:00:00+0000The Athena Project was set up by women in the academic science community. It led to the creation of the Scientific Women's Academic Network (SWAN)1999-01-01T00:00:00+0000Higher education institutions required to present plans of action for equality and collect data on distribution of scientific personnel by gender. Includes giving child rearing allowance for young women and men.1999-02-11T00:00:00+0000Meeting held under auspices of European Commission's research directorate, DGXII, organised by Nicole Dewandre. Calls for and calls for establishment of network to document best practice in European Union member states1999-07-01T00:00:00+0000Each delegate assigned task to produce report describing existing national policies to promote women in science1999-11-01T00:00:00+0000Research Directorate-General, EC, Science Policies in the European Union: Promoting science through mainstreaming gender equality (2001), ISBN 92-828-8682-4. Proposes Member States pass legislation to oblige employers to keep collect statistics to monitor gender balance in terms of employment and pay in universities, research institutions2001-01-01T00:00:00+000015 million euro allocated to projects to network and raise gender awareness; encourage young women to undertake scientific careers, and retain them; on gender research and gender mainstreaming in research.2002-06-01T00:00:00+0000Foundation created by Nusslein-Volhard, 1995 Nobel Prize winner, to cover the costs of housework and childcare for talented women scientists with children undertaking graduate or postgraduate work at German universities or research institutes2004-01-01T00:00:00+0000Organisations awarded bronze, silver and gold awards to identify 'employers of choice'. Scheme evolved out of work between Athena Project and the Scientific Women's Academic Network (SWAN). Charter requires commitment at all levels of an organisation to tackle inequalities of women in science and chancing attitudes and culture. Charter supported by Equality Challenge Unit and UKRC.2005-06-22T00:00:00+0000The policy was initiated by Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England and director of the National Institute of Medical research. Under the new policy medical schools could only obtain research funding if they had a 'silver' Athena SWAN award. This award is given based on an institution demonstrating equality between staff, in particular in the area of gender. 2011-01-01T00:00:00+0000The meeting brought together a group of women at different stages in their careers and from different disciplines and institutions to identify not just how to encourage women to enter science but also remain and progress to senior positions. 2014-02-01T00:00:00+0000The NYSCF's Initiative of Women in Science and Engineering recommended: 1) grant-making organisations provide flexible funding to pay for childcare, eldercare and family-related expenses; 2) creation of gender-neutral award programmes for newly independent young investigators who are primary care givers to be able to hire extra assistance for their research; 3) funders adopt gender-conscious review committees and speaker selection committee recruitment policies; 4) development of a record card system like the UK Athena SWAN scheme to assess gender equality institutions for grant applications; 5) expand upon existing searchable database of women in science, medicine and engineering. K A Smith, et al 'Seven Actionable Strategies for Advancing Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine', Cell Stem Cell, 16/3 (2015), 221-24.2015-03-05T00:00:00+0000SUSTAIN was launched by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council and the Royal Society and Royal College of Physicians. It was set up to help overcome the problem of not enough women securing leadership positions. SUSTAIN is a year-long programme that offers 20 participants skills training, career development and workshops and mentoring. The programme is open to biomedical researchers (both clinical and non-clinical) from different backgrounds. 2016-01-01T00:00:00+0000The call was made in a paper published by NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre which highlighted the under-representation of women among both researchers and research participants. The authors recommended research funders to make sure gender equity is considered in relation to research design and research institutions make a commitment to reducing biases and increasing equality and analyse the impact of gender-based teams. P V Ovseiko, et al, Health Research Policy and Systems, 14/50 (2016), 1-12,
Date Event People Places
1957Treaty of Rome principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal pay enshrined in European Commission Treaties 
1970US Women’s Equality Action League filed complaints of discrimination against over 200 academic institutions nationwide Sandler 
23 Jun 1972Title IX Act signed, ending quotas against appointing women to US university positions, including scienceSandler 
August 1980US National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Programs called on higher education institutions to prohibit sexual harassment and put in place avenues for making complaints and implementing sanctionsSandler 
16 Aug 1988European Parliament passed Resolution on Women and Research highlights under-representation of women in science and calls for Member States to develop measures to promote women
1989First National Report in Germany on the Promotion of Women in Science  
1990Special funding programme launched by German Federal Government to increase number of women in top positions in science  
1993UK Government review of science policy over previous 20 years recognised women as ‘biggest single most undervalued and … under-used human resource’ 
15 Feb 1993 - February 16, 1993International workshop held in Logue expresses concerns about lack of women in science  
1994UK Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Technology publishes report highlighting few women reach positions of seniority in science  
June 1994Informal poll of MIT women scientists with tenure reveals serious concerns about status and treatment of women in School of ScienceMassachusetts Institute of Technology
January 1996MIT Committee on Women issues first report on study of treatment of women faculty in School of Science Massachusetts Institute of Technology
22 May 1997Wake-up call for many life sciences funding agencies of inherent discrimination against women applicants as result of analysis of Swedish Medical Research Council's grant selection scheme Wenneras, Wold 
1998Amendments made to German Higher Education Framework Act to promote gender equality in universities and provide greater support for young scientists 
1998European Commission Research Directorate General set up an expert group to prepare a report on women-and-science policy in the European Union 
March 1998Academy of Finland set up working group to investigate career opportunities for women and ways to eliminate obstacles preventing equality in academic scientific community 
1999Athena Project set up with mission to advance and promote careers of women in science, engineering and technology in UK higher education and research institutions 
11 Feb 1999Danish Ministry of Research and Information Technology launched initiative to promote women in science  
July 1999Meeting of 70 European organisations in Brussels issues joint statement describing the under-representation of women in science as 'a serious obstacle for the development of the sciences and for European society' Dewandre 
November 1999Helsinki Group on Women and Science set up by European Commission  
2001European Technology Assessment Network (ETAN) report demonstrated women held fewer than 10% top positions in academic system despite women making up half of student population in Europe 
June 2002European Commission's 6th Framework Programme launched to support women in science 
2004Christiane Nusslein-Volhard Foundation establishedNusslein-VolhardMax Planck Institute
22 Jun 2005Athena SWAN Charter recognition scheme launched to advance representation of women in science, technology, medicine and mathematics in UK universities 
2011Policy implemented insisting UK medical schools demonstrate good employment practices for women to be short-listed for funding from National Institute for Health ResearchDavies 
February 2014The New York Stem Cell Foundation convened meeting to identify ways to help women excel in their careers 
5 Mar 2015Guidelines issued to promote and ensure gender equality in science by New York Stem Cell Foundation working partySmith, Arlotta, Watt, Soloman 
2016UK pilot programme, SUSTAIN, created to help biomedical women researchers progress into leadership roles 
19 Jul 2016Global call for action to include gender in biomedical research impact assessments Ovseiko, Greenhalgh 

Respond to or comment on this page on our feeds on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.