Sunday, 3 March 2013

Advancing Women in Mathematics

Aside: To comment on my recent Gresham College lectures please go to this blog entry. My next Gresham College lecture is on Monday 15 April at 6pm at Barnards Inn Hall, near Chancery Lane tube station, central London.  I will be talking about proof, by human and by computer: all readers of this blog are very welcome.  The lectures can be viewed on the Gresham College website.

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On Wednesday 27 February the London Mathematical Society launched a report "Advancing Women in Mathematics".  There are too few female mathematicians.  While this may be because women are too sensible to want to do mathematics, I believe that mathematics has enriched my life and given me opportunities and I am dismayed that these benefits are being taken up in the UK largely by representatives of only one half of the population.  Only 6% of professors of mathematics in the UK are women.  (Most other countries do a lot better.)

There are some promising signs.  There are now sufficiently many successful mathematicians to show conclusively that women can do mathematics at the highest level. But they face obstacles.  Chris Good and I recently did a project about "Being a Professional Mathematician", which produced resources including interviews with mathematicians, and the interviews with Gwyneth Stallard and Sue Merchant, in particular, have interesting insights into their lives as female mathematicians.

Women now make up 40% of undergraduate mathematicians (and were a slightly smaller proportion of the speakers at the recent undergraduate conference Tomorrow's Mathematicians Today).  But the proportion of women in mathematics drops as one lists PhD students, postdocs, academics and professors.  Even 40% of undergraduates could be seen as a rather disappointing proportion when more women than men go to university.

The LMS report contains useful examples of initiatives and actions which may help.  The LMS and its excellent Women in Mathematics Committee is to be congratulated for so publicly raising this issue and for its commitment to improving the situation.

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