UWE academic speaks up for women mathematicians

Issue date: 13 October 2016

Dr Catherine Hobbs

An academic from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has for the past 18 years worked for a sub-group she helped to establish called the LMS Women in Mathematics Committee (WiM), linked to the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and the learned society for mathematicians in the UK.

The LMS has been honoured this autumn by receiving the first Royal Society Athena Prize to recognise its advancement of diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) within the mathematical community. The Royal Society is the UK's most prestigious scientific society, founded in the 1660s, whose mission is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.

Dr Catherine Hobbs from UWE Bristol and the first chair of the WiM Committee (1999-2001) spoke recently at a WiM meeting telling of the challenges women mathematicians have faced historically and how the group has focused on redressing the balance in academia.

“In 1998 I was elected to the Council of the London Mathematical Society. As a woman myself, I was of course interested in women's careers in mathematics. Women had never been well represented in the discipline, especially at the highest levels. Between its foundation in 1865 and 1998, the LMS had awarded four prizes in total to women mathematicians, and only one woman had ever been President of the Society during this time. Whilst in the early days of the Society this reflected the make-up of the profession to some extent, by 1998 this was certainly not the case – around 38% of graduates and 18% of lecturers were female. However, at the upper end only 2% of professors of mathematics were female, and few women were invited to showcase their work at the prestigious Society meetings (3 speakers out of 21 were female in that year). As a Council member, I had the opportunity to do something about this.”

The group was established to raise the profile of women in mathematics, to support women in the mathematics profession, improve practice in the mathematics community as regards gender diversity and collect and disseminate data about women in mathematics. Examples of the progress achieved since the group was founded include that since 1999, 18 LMS prizes have been awarded to women mathematicians. In 2015 alone, 42 out of 106 speakers at LMS events were women. Over 1,100 women have attended Women in Mathematics Days organised by the group.

Dr Hobbs continues, “The work with WiM is supported by men and women in the field and this is critical to its success. Working together to encourage diversity is absolutely essential to creating academic environments that reward and nurture achievement.

“The work with the LMS is something I have been very keen to continue during my time at UWE and we have made some fantastic progress as a University, including the award of Athena SWAN Bronze at institutional level in 2013 and Department Athena SWAN Bronze awards for a number of departments since then. By improving our practices to support women in STEM we have shown that we can achieve a better environment for all staff and students.”

See more information here about equality and diversity work at UWE Bristol

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