Diversity in Physics

Dr. Suzie Sheehy





Focusing on Gender because that is what Dr Sheehy knows most about…

But Diversity is far broader than gender!

Athena Swan: Oxford physics department holds a silver award (Data from 2014/2015). The department also holds the Institute of Physics Juno Champion Status






The above figure shows the percentage of females in the Oxford Physics Department at various stages of their career compared with similar UK institutions. Data are for 2012/13 from HESA. Staff categories are determined by HESA entries: “Fixed-term staff” roughly equates to junior postdocs; “Permanent staff” roughly equates to lecturer/reader/professor

Biases – don’t pretend they don’t exist

1. Prove-it-Again. Two-thirds of the women interviewed, and two-thirds of the women surveyed, reported having to prove themselves over and over again – their successes discounted, their expertise questioned.

2. The Tightrope. Women need to behave in masculine ways in order to be seen as competent—but women are expected to be feminine.

3. The Maternal Wall. When professional women have children, they often find themselves running into a wall: their commitment and competence are questioned, and opportunities start drying up.

4. Tug-of-War. Studies show that women who have encountered discrimination early in their careers often distance themselves from other women.

5. Isolation: ‘Oh, she’s going to be the only black person/woman there… just don’t invite her, she won’t feel comfortable.’


Percent of US women in STEM who report …



Small positives, which were big battles…

‘Anti-harassment policy’ instigated at major conferences in Dr. Sheehy’s field. (Took 2 years)

Change of acronym from ‘FFAG’ (offensive) to ‘FFA’. (Took 11 years)

The advice Dr Sheehy would give an aspiring female physicist… (Things that have helped her…)

“• It’s not your job to be an expert on gender. It’s your job to be an expert in physics. But learning more about the topic will allow you to see what is ‘you’ and what is ‘society/bias’. (Recommend: books by Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot)

• It’s OK to disengage with ‘women in physics’. I’ve had periods of being involved and periods of being disengaged. Don’t try to be superwoman.

• Build a good support network. Mentors, supporters, friends, family.

• Share experiences (if you can) and ask (male) colleagues to be involved in handling situations.

• Work on ‘standard responses’ to instances of bias/sexism to help you curb it in the moment.

• Take holidays. Look after your mental and physical health. Encourage others around you to do the same.”

Tips for Engaging with Female Academic Physicists (sorry for the cynicism… but all of these have happened…)

“I need a female speaker to encourage girls in physics. Please let me know when you’re available in the next 2 years…”

“Please thank the lovely ladies for coming to visit today…”

“My students are doing an assignment where they have been asked to ‘reach out’ via email/twitter to female physicists to interview them”

“You’re such a great role model, you’re a physicist AND you’re feminine and a nice/normal person!”

“Your work is inspirational, so tell us, what’s it like being a woman in physics?”

Do’s and don’ts for encouraging girls in Physics:


Resources – Women in Physics @ Oxford





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s