Workshop 8 Report:
How to increase participation of women in biomedical engineering
Beijing, May 28, 2012, WC2012
The Chair (Monique Frize) discussed how the workshop would unfold and asked three groups to form as much as possible by geographic region, although some exceptions provided a broader view in each group. Twenty persons attended and were active participants in the small group discussions. The three groups were composed of persons from:
- Australia, USA, Brazil, China, and Germany
- Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Algeria
- Europe and Cuba
Australian and North American Group
Participants: Laura Poole-Warren (Chair, Australia), Penny Martens (Australia), Kate Fox (Australia), May D. Wang (USA), Mu Lim (student from China), Subrata Saha (USA), Birgit Glasmacher (Germany), Anna Maria (Brazil)
The group discussed various issues relating to challenges for women in science and engineering. These included:
- although attracting women is still an issue in some branches of engineering in the biomedical areas the problem of retaining women in the field are more acute
- the low numbers of senior female role models in the field, including very low numbers of female plenary and keynote speakers and awardees
- there is limited information on the proportion of female abstract/paper submissions to conferences and the acceptance rate for females versus males is unknown
- female attendance at conferences may be impacted by financial limitations in some areas (the example of scholarships for females to attend Medical Physics conferences was raised)
- the definition of “early career researcher” for females is the same as for males despite the higher likelihood for females to have career interruptions and part-time employment in the post-PhD period due to maternity leave
- communication of information relating to WiMBE with groups like INWES at the individual organisation and institutional level needs to be improved
- Propose female plenary speakers with the aim of achieving 50% female speakers at plenaries at the 2015 World Congress
- Develop and obtain support for a multinational women’s travel scholarship to support a delegation promoting women in science and engineering (this could be modelled on the Singaporean travel fellowship model)
- Collect data on female to male ratios for paper submission and acceptance and on conference attendance to better understand whether there is an issue with access to conferences. If this is an issue, consider introduction of scholarships for female attendance and other factors that could improve the ratio.
- Improve the WiMBE website and ensure that better communication of the website and contents occurs to support improvement of profile. Strategies for improved communication of activities at the Societies level via the newsletter and website should be developed and implemented.
Participants: Shauna Mullally (Chair, Canada), Mainland China (Yuchuan Fu, BME working in a hospital); Singapore (Tan Peck Ha, director of a 3 year BME diploma programme); Japan (Miki Kaneko, BME student); Hong Kong (Winnie So, BME student); Algeria (Ahmed Meghzifene, working for the IAEA); South Korea (Sangbeom Jun, Instructor of a BME programme).
There was a really lively discussion about the challenges of recruiting and retaining women in Biomedical Engineering (BME) in Asia. Some of the challenges discussed (balancing work and family, lack of role models, etc.) reflect wider global challenges, while others were more specific to the Asian context. These are:
- Cultural – women are expected to join the workforce immediately after receiving their bachelor degree (i.e. not pursue post-graduate studies); to ‘place family first’ after getting married; at times female students and professionals are openly discriminated against for positions
- Economic – there are not many options for BME research positions within Asian industry
Regarding recruitment, participants said it was hard to attract female students because:
- Government policies support females entering life sciences more than engineering
- The programmes are associated with hard work but low pay (as compared with finance, business and life science research positions which are more highly valued)
Regarding retention, cultural expectations around the role of women was a large factor identified in losing women in the profession. “Women get lost” between 25 and 40, when most are expected to become mothers and policies to support working mothers are not strong.
Additionally, there were more open signs of discrimination than are found in other regions. For example, participants shared anecdotes of employers stating that they only wanted to review the profiles of recent male graduates and reject all female students for workplace attachments based on their gender.
Some strategies employed to combat these challenges include senior faculty visiting female students on workplace attachments and ‘checking in with them’ regularly during their studies.
1. Create an international mentoring network.
2. Advocate for the appointment of a women BME representative on each of the IFMBE’s new regional Councils.
The breakout session was a great venue for discussion and sharing of experiences and strategies. The need for established mentorship programme options was loud and clear.
Participants: Alicia El-Haj (Chair, UK), Consuelo Varela (Cuba), Jorge Castro (Cuba), Birgit Glasmacher (Germany), Kurt Höller (Germany), Lena-Kajsa Sidén (Sweden), and Suzanne Picard (France).
Discussion points: In Europe, there have been a significant number of groups involved in promoting Engineering and Physics in schools as a discipline, encouraging an increased number of female students taking these courses. The participant from Germany commented that in his Institute they had created a new undergraduate course called Healthcare Engineering which had 70% female student enrolment. This reflects the greater participation of women in courses which interface the bio or biomed aspects of engineering and physics.
The consensus was that undergraduate aspects of women’s issues are being well covered by existing groups within Europe with some success. The issue is now how to retain and support these students through their career if they choose to carry on to PhDs and remain within the clinical healthcare or academic sector.
The group felt there was a lack of senior female role models who were accessible or visible to this community. In addition the group felt that the openings and support for senior women in the field was lacking.
- The IFMBE should make proactive efforts to have female representation on the Council. This should be maintained with a suitable ratio (in proportion to female membership).
- There should be a new award scheme for outstanding younger female researchers and senior female researchers. The award for the senior researchers should link through to presentations at the World Congress.
- An international mentor scheme should be encouraged and facilitated through the website.
The workshop was highly successful in indentifying issues in the several regions of the world. Although some of the participants in groups were from other regions, it was useful to hear from everyone. A clear consensus was reached by each group on each region’s priorities and objectives, with doable recommendations put forward. It is important that the WiMBE committee work with the Administrative Council, with constituent societies, and with the WC2015 organising committee to ensure that the recommendations are implemented by 2015 in Toronto. The WiMBE committee is now expanded with several new members from regions not covered previously and the hope is a broader outreach for putting together an action plan to reach the goals described above.
As Chair, I wish to thank the three facilitators: Laura Poole-Warren (Australia), Alicia El-Haj (UK), and Shauna Mullally (Canada) for their help! Also many thanks are due to all participants at Workshop 8 in Beijing for their positive contributions to the future of WiMBE.
Monique Frize, Chair, WiMBE Committee