Women in science Q&A - Dame Anne Glover

Written by Staff reporter on 14 November 2017 in Inside Politics

Dame Anne Glover is Professor of Molecular Biology and Cell Biology at the University of Aberdeen, takes part in Holyrood's series of Q&As with leading women in science

Dame Anne Glover - credit Anne Glover

Anne Glover, who has served as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Scottish Government and to the President of the European Commission, 

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

When I was very young, it struck me as odd that teachers and others thought that it was unusual that I should be interested in science and that they should try and persuade me to consider something else. Even at university, tutors advised me to think carefully about pursuing a career in science as they thought it would not be very female friendly. The barriers were subtle (obviously, too subtle for me) and I just ignored them.

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

There are barriers and many of them are not obvious which makes it harder for them to be overcome. For example, the language used when advertising posts in science, engineering and technology is sometimes inadvertently gender biased; working practices are often not family friendly (this affects young fathers as well as young mothers); ensuring that parental leave can be shared between both parents is an important issue to be addressed by government and employers; attention needs to be paid to fair representation on panels, committees, etc so that women and their contributions are visible to society (and especially young women).

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

It isn’t how I think of myself but I accept that others see me that way and I am enormously flattered by that. At no time did I think of myself as pioneering, I am just a committed scientist. It is always unusual to me when others point out that I am the first woman to do something and that suggests to me we have quite a long way to go as the gender of someone in a post should not be worthy of comment. 

In terms of advice, I’d say a career in science is a fantastic thing to pursue and I would encourage them to follow their interests as far as that can take them. There is nothing that they cannot do and if they come across a barrier, just look for a way round it and always keep looking ahead. Never fear a rejection or a rebuff.

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

There have been many moments, often just the language used (“dear”, “love”, etc, which wouldn’t be applied to senior men) or reference to my looks because some men just saw a woman instead of a colleague. When answering the phone, the caller would often assume I was an assistant rather than a professor; in meetings, I found sometimes that what I said was ignored and then reinvented by a male attendee and warmly received; many of these things were unfortunate but minor, much worse was where senior men (and sometimes more junior men) decided that I could be side-lined (because I am a woman) and tried to do this. 

In the end, it didn’t work but this is not the sort of thing we should have to spend energy on in the workplace. However, I should say that occasionally I think being a woman has worked unfairly to my advantage as sometimes, I think that others have felt less threatened by me because I am a woman and so were more open to suggestions than they might have been were I a man.

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