08 Mar Our CIT interview with Dr Emily Grossman, STEM Broadcaster, Author and Commentator
Dr Emily Grossman, an expert in molecular biology who studied at Queen’s College Cambridge with a PhD in cancer research, is a lover of all things Science and Maths and a passionate advocate for gender equality in science. Emily is doing it all, she has combined skills and devotion for Science and Maths and acting by becoming a Science communicator and TV broadcaster.
Emily has been the resident science expert on ITV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show and is currently a member of the panel of experts for Sky1’s celebrity panel-show Duck Quacks Don’t Echo, hosted by Lee Mack. She has appeared as a science expert on ITV’s This Morning, Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped, Sky News, BBC1’s The One Show and more. She is also a regular guest on the Guardian Science Weekly podcast and is the voice of Oxford University Press’s online resource, MyMaths.
In June 2015, Emily took part in a debate on Sky News regarding the controversial Tim Hunt story on gender equality in science. Her appearance prompted a barrage of sexist and misogynistic comments on YouTube and Twitter. Not allowing the online abuse stop her voice from being heard, Emily also did a Tedx UCL talk where she shared her personal experiences after the televised debate, highlighting the challenges and issues women face in Science and in the workplace.
In her Tedx UCL talk, Emily presented an encapsulating analogy she calls the three C’s: Compassion, Collaboration and Creativity. The three C’s originally came from talking to those important around her, such as family, friends and mentors about the value of emotional sensitivity and feelings in the workplace, particularly in the field of Science.
“The first C, Compassion, is caring about other people and the world around you. The ability to work together, empathise and connect with others is the basis of Collaboration, whilst the ability to connect with your own intuition and imagination leads to Creativity”.
Contracts IT interviewed Emily Grossman to find out more.
Do you think you need to be a feminist to support women empowerment?
It depends on your definition of what is a feminist. Personally, I believe a feminist is somebody who wants women to have equal opportunities and equal rights to men. In theory we should have equal rights in the UK and we shouldn’t have to campaign for that. The real problem here is equal opportunity. There is emotional baggage and underlying unconscious biases that come with these opportunities. Women are not feeling empowered and confident enough to step into certain roles, because there are so many years of subtle institutionalised misogyny, sexism and unconscious biases. I have caught myself sometimes referring to a doctor as a man, and then realising what I’ve said.
It’s definitely there holding us back from having a level playing field but we don’t notice it. There are boundaries holding us back from being on par and that’s what feminism is about, providing a level playing field for everyone, meaning men, women, gender groups, ethnicity and minority groups.
We need everyone to feel like they can take up those opportunities. People mistake feminism for equality of outcome and there is this belief that feminists won’t be happy until we have 50 / 50 women and men in Science or in Politics for example and perhaps to some extent that’s right. However, to me it’s not about forcing the outcome, it’s about having those equal opportunities. People against the movement of women in Science choose to argue that women are choosing not to take up STEM subjects. This is totally crazy because all these subtle stereotyping and unconscious biases stop women from believing they can take those opportunities. Let’s move forward in and erase these stereotypes.
Your Tedx UCL talk is called “Why Science Needs People Who Cry”. Why do you think crying is perceived as a weakness?
This is such an interesting question and there is certainly no clear answer for it. If you look back through history, crying was seen not only as normal but also as a show of heroism, strength, and masculinity. It has only become stigmatised in the last several centuries as the crying nature of women, who are now seen as weak and vulnerable. Historically, there are many references of men crying through the ages. In the bible for example, there are mentions of iconic male figures that “wept” in a powerful and heroic way. In Greek mythology, the Greek army wept in response to wars and conflicts and Zeus himself wept tears of blood. If you look back in medieval times, knights like Lancelot were not ashamed of crying: it demonstrated strength and vulnerability.
I don’t know how or when this sudden change in the value of emotions happened, crying is now purely ascribed to women and to weakness. Something that only women do and men must not do. It is damaging because men are conditioned to not cry or show their feelings.
My view on valuing emotions is that this is a universal issue which is equally damaging to both genders. Emotions are much more stigmatised here in the UK than other countries. When Princess Diana’s death was being reported on TV, I remember how Prince William and Prince Harry who were only young at the time, were praised for not crying as it showed that they were brave. They were kids! This mentality that in order to be a man and be strong you cannot show emotions or vulnerability is so damaging and I do believe there’s a reason why many men suffer from anxiety and depression and stress from bottling up their emotions.
I do feel like it is changing though, it’s exciting that we’re having these conversations in schools, universities, businesses and politics. Leadership particularly really needs an injection of what I call the “feminine” qualities – and by this I mean those qualities that are traditionally ascribed to women, but can just as easily be found in men – such as empathy, compassion and intuition. They are so important in every walk of life. Powerful men like Winston Churchill and Lincoln cried many times demonstrating that they are deeply connected with their emotions so why has it changed?
Howard Schultz, CEO for Starbucks told Oprah Winfrey how he cried during a speech with his employees. Obama for example cried when speaking about gun control and far more people got behind him because they saw his humanity and that he really cares about the people he is leading. That’s what great leadership needs. There is evidence that proves companies are much more successful if they care about their employees. It’s a sensible business model, job satisfaction is a major issue in developed countries, if we value people and not just their abilities and intellect we create environments where people are happy, we see them grow.
How did you deal with all the controversial responses post your Sky interview?
It was very difficult and I was initially shocked. I had no real awareness of the amount of misogyny and sexism present in the world. I was constantly on edge, reading all the messages as they came through, and I was trying to reason with people, and explain my point of view. Many messages suggested that as a feminist I must hate men. I felt I had to show people that it’s not a battle, it’s about supporting women and giving all genders equal opportunities. . There were a lot of comments about women not needing support and also the idea that sexism and unconscious bias doesn’t exist. It is so odd because I am talking about my own experiences and the experiences of so many other women I know. So yes, it was shocking to see that the reality which I knew was true, was being doubted and dismissed by so many people. I couldn’t believe that in this modern society women were being referred to as “cry-babies” or “not as clever as men”.
My credentials were attacked, my qualifications, my opinion, my looks, ethnicity and Jewish religion and it was very disturbing. It made me question – are they right? Is it me that’s wrong? Is it me going mad? Am I not representing the opinion of other women who feel the same?
Were there positive comments?
Yes I did receive positive messages of support even from men but they were so hard to see or hear with all the negativity. But this isn’t going to stop me from speaking out. I can and will keep talking about this and want women to empower and support each other in order to become a solid voice and share our experiences on a public platform without fear of being bullied. I learned that they are just words and opinions and that we need to change people’s mind-sets, not by being angry or attacking but by changing these messages we are putting out to society. To say that sexism doesn’t exist is to say a woman should just get on with it, just work harder. It’s not valuing or validating the women who are finding difficult to do this.
Do you think school is a good start to abolish these social/cultural norms/ideologies?
I do, and this is why I visit schools with the aim of showing children in primary and secondary school that firstly I’m a woman and a scientist, but also emotional, creative etc. These qualities are important in Science – any type of person can be a scientist as long as you are excited by Science and want to gain a deep understanding of the world. Girls and boys start to self-identify as “non-sciency” by the age of 11 – due to subtle messages in TV adverts, in movies and even comments at home, it is still perceived as more “normal” for a boy to be into STEM subjects. I want children to understand that science is for everyone, with so many great careers on offer. Not only in STEM, but in Tech as well. In these professions we need people with different skills and diverse qualities, we need teams and we need individuals. Our emotions are valuable and they can really contribute to technology fields, “bring your creativity, your heart, and fears and use it to offer something to the world.”
Is there any advice you have for other women?
I was affected by this all when I switched from my physics degree to biology because I believed the men on my course understood the material better than I did and they seemed to be more confident. When we did the physics exams, I actually did better than many of the boys did, but I had made myself believe that I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t get any support or encouragement either. Women are losing their confidence, their faith in themselves, which is stopping them from chasing their dreams.
“Don’t stop believing in yourself, even if the environment makes you feel inadequate or different”. I am happy with the way my life turned out but I do sometimes wonder what I would be doing if I hadn’t dropped physics. If you enjoy something, then continue to pursue it, that’s the most important thing”.
It’s clear that Emily is proactively using her expertise and experience as a platform to inspire, to encourage but also to invite dialogue on some pertinent and often polarising issues. Her Tedx talk on Why Science Needs People Who Cry is available below.
Dr. Emily Grossman is an expert in molecular biology and genetics, with a Double First in Natural Sciences from Queens’ College Cambridge and a PhD in cancer research. She also trained and worked as an actress, and now combines her skills as a science broadcaster and educator. Emily teaches and tutors maths and science at all academic levels, she explains science for a wide range of TV and radio programmes, and she gives talks in schools, universities and at live events. She can currently be seen as a member of the panel of experts for Sky1’s fact-based celebrity panel-show Duck Quacks Don’t Echo, hosted by Lee Mack. Emily is also a passionate advocate for gender equality and diversity in science.
For more information please see emilygrossman.co.uk or on Twitter @DrEmilyGrossman
On Thursday 10th of March, Contracts IT will host a Tweet Chat using the hashtag #CITchat where we will be highlight issues around women in STEM and technology. We would like to hear your views so please join the conversation. Follow us on @ContractsIT13 #CITchat