Professor Lesley Yellowlees, Vice Principal and Head of the College of Engineering and Science at the University of Edinburgh, was featured at the 2014 BBC’s 100 Women conference on October 28.
The conference was part of the wider 100 Women series, which was established last year. It celebrates the successes of women around the world, while addressing global gender-related issues and challenges.
Yellowlees spoke alongside Malawian president Joyce Banda, comedian Shappi Khorsandi, and halal food entrepreneur Shazia Saleem as a keynote speaker.
She told the audience that “there is no such thing as a girl job or a boy job – there is just a job” and insisted that having a family had not prevented her from enjoying the “rigour of research and the exhilaration of academic study.”
Yellowlees, who is a professor of inorganic electrochemistry and the first female president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, has been outspoken on the issues of renewable energy, which she has dedicated 30 years of research to, and gender imbalance in science.
Speaking to The Student, she discussed the situation for female scientists.
Yellowlees said: “I think what’s positive about it is that (…) people are much more willing to talk about it and talk about why there is the imbalance and what can we do to overcome it.
“So yes there is some way to go–I mean, in chemistry if you look there’s only eight percent of the professors at the moment are female, and that’s too small a number.
“But people are recognising that, and they’re recognising that it’s a common problem, that what’s called the ‘leaky pipeline’ and is common across all the science and engineering subjects.
“It’s true in Scotland, it’s true in the UK, it’s true in Europe, and it’s true across the world.”
When asked whether she considered herself a feminist campaigner, Yellowlees said: “I think if you want to get hooked up on labels that’s fine, but at some times it’s very helpful, sometimes it’s very unhelpful. I just want to tell people what I think.”
Yellowlees seemed hopeful about future generations of scientists. She told The Student: “There are a lot of global challenges out there, such as: what can we do about the 1.6 billion people that don’t have access to electricity?
“That’s a fifth of the world that don’t have access to electricity. Or fresh water. There are all these issues, and loads more, that we can talk about.
“Science has a part to play in each and every one of them. And if we’re going to have a world and a society for everybody, and that everybody can flourish in, and reach their true potential, then science is going to have to play a very big part.
“I would use that as a rallying call to young people. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that?
“We need scientists in there and we need scientists with as diverse a background as we possibly can.”