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Science, sexism and emotional intelligence

The recent comments made by Nobel prize-winner Tim Hunt about female scientists were at best misguided and, at worst, extremely damaging to the efforts being made to increase the worryingly low number of women in science here in the UK (Tim Hunt apologises for comments on his ‘trouble’ with female scientists, 11 June).

The Royal Society’s condemnation of his comments was correct to note that “science needs to make the best use of the research capabilities of the entire population”. A central challenge to expanding the diversity of the sector is not only inspiring young people to study the right subjects to facilitate pursuing a Stem career but bolstering students’ self-efficacy (ie banishing perceptions that science “isn’t for me, and I can’t do it”), through promoting confidence in the skills required to study science, such as curiosity and teamwork.

We desperately need to make science relatable, aspirational and desirable by educating young women on the variety of careers available through a science-based education – and by celebrating the achievements of inspirational female scientists.

At L’Oréal we are already taking steps towards this with the L’Oréal Young Science Centre, while celebrating and developing female role models in science with our For Women in Science programme with Unesco. However, with the rest of the UK industry, more can and should be done to educate people on the important contribution female scientists make to this country.
Katy Gandon
Head of L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Programme UKI

Some people may see Tim Hunt’s experience and opinions as sexist or crass. What I see is poor emotional intelligence at work. People who assume that it’s only IQ that matters; that science is supreme; or that emotions should be left at the door, demonstrate a deficiency in social skills.

If Mr Hunt can’t give constructive feedback – to men or women – about their work; if he can’t feel attraction to people without creating problems in his work environment; or he sees other people – not himself – as the problem, then he needs to improve these skills. They are easily learned and make relationships so much better – whether we’re a Nobel prize-winner or a poet. It’s really not rocket science.
Helen Caton Hughes
Willoughby, Warwickshire


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