Increasing diversity in STEMM

With help from crowdfunding, PhD student Madeleine Hann wants to improve her own leadership skills to become an effective leader and advocate for diversity in STEMM.

Share Despite making up nearly half the work force, women occupy just 24% of senior leadership roles Share on X Madeleine is crowdfunding to take part in a year long leadership training scheme for women in science Share on X The Homeward Bound Project will see 1000 women over 10 years visit Antarctica and learn how to become effective leaders in science Share on X


Across all industries, women are chronically underrepresented in leadership positions. Despite making up nearly half of the work force, women occupy just 24% of senior leadership roles.

And in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) positions, the gender leadership gap is even starker. In biosciences, for example, a 2013 report from the Society of Biology shows that while women make up 61% of postgraduate students, only 15% of bioscience professors are female.

One of the hardest things is that people don’t even know this is a problem” Madeleine Hann, a PhD student in The Department of Geography at The University of Manchester says.

“I often speak to people who say ‘surely there’s not any more discrimination, isn’t it fine? You’ve got the vote now, haven’t you?’”

“But the reality is there are still many levels of conscious, unconscious and systematic bias which hold back women in STEMM, or stop them entering the field in the first place.”

Not only does this disparity limit opportunity for women in science, but Madeleine points out it also leads to worse results from industries which lack diversity.

“As well as enabling young women, there’s an economic argument to increase diversity, because it’s been proved on many levels that a greater diversity of decision makers means better decisions are made.”

The gender gap in science is, slowly, getting better. But there is still a very long way to go.

Homeward Bound

The Homeward Bound Project is a ten year project which aims to help close this gap. Over the course of 10 years, the project will equip over 1000 women working in science and related industries with the skills and networks required to reach positions of leadership.

The project is now in its third year, and Madeleine is the youngest member of this year’s cohort.

Over the course of this year, Madeleine and 79 other women have received training, mentoring, and one on one coaching from world experts to help them learn about science communication, visibility, and leadership.

An expedition to Antarctica

The year will then culminate in a three week expedition to Antarctica in January 2019 where the participants will split their time between doing leadership training, knowledge sharing and collaborating on solutions to the global implications of climate change.

Climate change is an area which Madeleine is already involved in. Her PhD looks at climate change in the recent geological past, and how rivers have shaped landscapes as a response to this.

“We’ll have some amazing mentors while on the ship. One of the people who is coming this year is Christiana Figueres, who’s the woman who led the 2015 Paris Agreement to success.  She’s coming to teach us about leadership which is just amazing – I would never have had the opportunity to meet and learn from her otherwise.”

Having prominent role models in science is crucial to help encourage young women and girls to go into scientific careers. One of the key reasons Madeleine is taking part in this leadership training program is to allow her to become visible as a role model to support and inspire other women.

“Women don’t get to see people like them in these leadership roles very often. If you can’t see yourself in these roles, then it’s really hard to work towards them.

“I’m in a very a privileged situation, due to my upbringing, nationality and education, and I feel a definite responsibility to help improve the situation for women in science.”

Participating in the Homeward Bound Project will help Madeleine achieve these goals.

Becoming a future leader

“It’s about learning what I can do with my career to be the most effective leader and advocate for diversity that I can be.”

But going on this expedition costs a lot of money. The full cost of the flights, accommodation, food and other expenses is nearly £12,000. All training is given in-kind by individuals and organisations sharing the vision of the project.

As the project fits into the University’s social responsibility agenda, Madeleine has received some funding through SEED (School of Environment, Education and Development) social responsibility, but will need to raise the majority of the cost herself.


Madeleine will be able to self-finance a portion of this, but would be unable to pay the full amount herself, so she is working with The University of Manchester’s crowdfunding platform to seek additional funding.

The crowdfunding platform helps connect Manchester students and staff with supporters within their networks to help raise money for a range of charitable endeavours within the University community.

On the platform, Madeleine has already raised over £5000 in only 2 weeks.  She is very grateful to those who have supported her already. “The support and encouragement has been overwhelming!”

“As a PhD student, I simply can’t afford to pay for all this by myself, but I completely believe that what I will learn from this will allow me to give back so much and because I’m learning it at the start of my career, I have that longevity of giving back as well.”

“If anyone is thinking of donating I would say that it is a crucial project. Trying to get women in science to the highest leadership positions and to inspire young women is so important. I will make sure to use this opportunity to give back and to encourage others.”

“It means the absolute world to me. This is something that I work incredibly hard on and I’m going to continue to work hard on for the rest of my career.

Supporters of Madeleine’s campaign can access a range of rewards, including receiving postcards from Antarctica, or a personalised video recorded in the freezing waters.

“I can’t wait to tell people about the trip and send all the postcards. My plan is to write one a day while I’m out there and sort of dedicate that one day to them.”

The future

In the longer term, Madeleine hopes to complete her PhD studying the effect of climate change on river systems, before continuing her career in research.

“I have ambitions to one day be head of a department or organisation. This would allow me to make real institutional change and I would love to lead an inclusive, welcoming environment for people from all backgrounds.”

“But it’s hard to predict what I’ll do after the journey to Antarctica – because I’ll get to meet all these amazing women who do all these different jobs that I probably don’t know exist yet, so I’ll have to wait and see.”

You can support Madeleine’s crowdfunding project until Sunday 2nd December.

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