Louise Manning, Reader, on how we address the mobility of women of all ages into areas of the work environment that historically have not been their domain.
I was five years old when I first learned about Professor Marie Curie-Sk?odowskiej and I made myself a promise that if it took me a whole lifetime I would try to contribute as she had to science and also to society. This has been my focus for nearly half a century.
In the 1980s, I was the first person, but definitely not the last, in my family to go to university, an opportunity that women in earlier generations of my family, especially my grandmother could never have dreamed of attaining. Yet when studying chemistry and biochemistry, my first degree, I could draw on the knowledge that women scientists in chemistry and other disciplines had achieved and were achieving great advances alongside, and sometimes in advance of their male counterparts. I am a scientist, in the way I think, how I use logic and how I see the world. For me science extends beyond the natural and the physical to the social too. My research work in the area of food policy is current, vital, dynamic and at times totally mentally absorbing.
After university, I worked in industry, married and started my own consultancy business as it fitted in with having three small children and supporting my husband and his business i.e. I could do much of the report writing work when they were asleep. I took the decision to finance my own part-time PhD which I did for five years whilst maintaining all my other work and personal commitments, and then two years later entered part, then moved to full-time, academia in 2012.
Since then I have moved from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer to Reader, as of March this year, and I hope if I meet the promotion criteria one day to become a full Professor. This achievement is not without tremendous support from family and friends and over the last two years at Harper Adams University the learning from the wonderful Aurora course I attended and the much appreciated personal support from so many colleagues in preparing for the promotion interviews and to showcase myself and my work to their best advantage.
Harper Adams University is seeking to address its gender pay gap. Learning spaces at universities with agriculture, agri-business, agri-technology, computer systems and design have not historically been gender balanced. This is changing every day in the laboratory, the lecture theatre, the field work we do, the farms, factories, processing plants and food service and retail businesses the students work in on placement. This trend will only accelerate and the gap will close.
However, pay is only one part of the story. As a collective, irrespective of gender, job title or pay scale, the primary aim of all staff academic and support alike at Harper Adams University is the care of the students. In terms of helping them to achieve academically, supporting them through the experience of becoming the young people they are capable of being in all those myriad facets, that is what our collective work is all about. The students exhaust and inspire me with equal measure. The fact I “do” research gives me credibility in the lecture theatre, on the conference platform, when I contribute a book chapter to an anthology and much more.
In the 100th anniversary year of the suffragette movement, we have to say we have achieved much, but there is still some more to do to create opportunities and accessibility for all in all disciplines of research and indeed at the top levels of all professional disciplines. Marie Curie is the ultimate example of that, for a young child of five or an adult woman. We need to recognise that all academic research has value.
Sometimes value can be determined by metrics and prizes and sometimes such as the development of mobile X-ray units in the First World War and cancer research, the value of a scientist is determined by history.
Louise Manning (pictured below).