Chemical Imbalance


Cover of the book to go with the film











A couple of weeks ago I blogged about population and its rapid rise (see ‘Population Control’ on September 25th, 2013).  Despite our burgeoning population many university engineering schools in the English-speaking world tend to recruit from only half the population, i.e. the male population.  Representation of females in engineering is woefully low, generally worse than in science.  To learn more how women feel about the situation in chemistry watch a short film called ‘A Chemical Imbalance’  – I highly recommend that you spare the 15 minutes to watch it at

Go on do it now! The rest of this posting is boring stuff so watch the film which was made with support from the Royal Society.

In the film ‘the leaky pipeline’ is talked about in the context of women entering science and engineering not making it to the top.  Of course this is not unique to science and engineering; only about 20 of the Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO.  This is an important issue but the supply to the pipeline is a bigger problem.  Only 20% of the students awarded an A-level in Physics in the UK this year (equivalent to AP exams in the US) were female and since most university engineering programmes require Physics the supply of qualified women is almost decimated before it gets to the pipeline.  This year my school has taken the step of dropping the physics requirement and accepting that we will need to teach the necessary physics as part of our engineering courses; incidently we also raised the grades we require so this does not represent a lowering of standards!

Another sobering thought is that nearly half of co-education state schools in the UK had no females studying for A-level physics.  I don’t have statistics for the US but I suspect they would be the same.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a political scientist at Princeton argues that ‘the way we view women [has] changed radically, [but] the way we view men not at all’ so that achieving further gender equality requires a cultural change about and by men, which is going to be tough in a male-dominated conservative profession like engineering but we have to do it.  So if you didn’t watch the film, do it now and think about how you can be an agent for change.


Eduardo Porter’s column ‘Economic Scene’ entitled ‘Is leaning in enough to fix the gender gap? in the New York Times on September 24th, 2013 see

2 thoughts on “Chemical Imbalance

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