All too often I find myself depressed and frustrated about the lack of progress made by women since winning the right to vote: still there are too few women at the top, whether it’s in politics, business, science or the arts. Still the gender pay gap persists, and while women are working more hours than at any other time in history, we’re still doing the majority of the housework. All of this inequality and I still frequently hear comments that women are their own worst enemy; that when a woman does reach the top she doesn’t extend a hand down to help others, often because she’s so worried there’s only one female spot in the echelons of power.
Yes, it’s definitely easy to get disheartened… but then something comes around the corner to cheer you up. Over the last few weeks I’ve been listening avidly to the build-up to the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List: their final list of the 100 women making the most impact on UK society will be announced tomorrow. It’s been both fascinating and inspiring to hear about all of this extraordinary female talent; all of these women driving agendas and making change, being celebrated by other women. It made me want to use my blog not just to debate and critique inequality, but to celebrate some pretty special women around me.
The lady I’ve really wanted to shout about in the last couple of weeks is one of my oldest friends, Alex Ferguson. It’s unbelievable that sixteen years ago we used to sit in the same science classes together, because she’s just passed her viva for her PhD in Chemistry. Yes, you read the last sentence correctly, a PhD in Chemistry. If that’s not worth celebrating then I don’t know what is.
Of course Alex didn’t just go and get a PhD, she finished it several months ahead of the deadline, and managed to fit in an internship at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. (Before you ask, she’s not slipped me any cash, in fact she doesn’t even know I’m writing this!) She also makes it her mission to put science at the heart of the political agenda, taking the opportunity to quiz any minister, who has anything to do with science, whenever they make a public appearance. Between her and Prof. Lesley Yellowlees (the first female President-elect of the Royal Society of Chemistry), David Willetts has a lot to be worried about.
Alex will not be on the Woman’s Hour Power List this year, and maybe not the next year either, but in the years that follow, I firmly believe I’ll start to see Alex and many of the other strong, capable, intelligent women I count as my friends, topping the Power List and the Rich List and the Influential People List. I also know they’ll be extending a hand down to the next generation to make sure that they’re on the lists too.