Women in science Q&A - Professor Sue Black

Written by Staff Reporter on 10 November 2017 in Inside Politics

Sue Black is Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee and Director of the Centre for International Forensic Assistance

Professor Sue Black has worked for the United Nations and UK in identifying victims and perpetrators of conflicts and disasters around the world, including in Iraq, Kosovo and the 2004 tsunami.

What barriers did you face going into science growing up, and how did you overcome them?

I was not aware of any barriers. My secondary school was a streamed local school and it seemed to make no difference if you were a boy or a girl as long as you showed aptitude, the intent to work hard and that you were good at the science. When I took up my first post in academia, whilst it was clear that it was a patriarchal-governed department, it was very protective and nurturing and you felt supported by the senior male academics rather than exploited. When I moved into my work for the HO and FCO in the Government, again, I felt no barriers being a woman as long as I was good at my job. I have also experienced no disruptive discrimination either from the police or the military with whom I worked – but maybe it has helped that I am in irascible red-headed Celtic woman who doesn’t take prisoners! I think I have been very lucky.

The Scottish Government has recognised women in science as an untapped resource, but what barriers remain?

I am not so naïve as to think that every woman in science has had the easy route that I experienced, although I will say that having had three children made competing in the workplace doubly challenging. I believe that childcare sharing issues are still a major hurdle as we rail against the stereotypes of women at home and women in the workplace. It can of course be done, we can have it all, but we tend to still do it at greater cost to the woman in a partnership with children. I hate to perpetuate the stereotype as of course, this is not representative of all partnerships, but I still think it the majority.

Do you see yourself as a role model or pioneer, and what advice would you give a young woman entering science today?

I have never seen myself as either a pioneer or a role model – I just do my job. The only advice I have is the same for men as it is for woman – work harder than anyone else and exploit your strengths.

Can you think of a moment in your career where you have felt undermined or patronised because you are a woman?

I have been undermined and patronised many times but I don’t necessarily believe that it was because I was a woman – I think it was just the personality of the people in question. It is hard to separate out and easy to conflate one with the other. I am not aware of being discriminated against in my workplace

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