From an early age, Dr Joanna Heaton-Marriott, head of communications and engagement at the University of Central Lancashire, and director of the University’s Lancashire Science Festival, had an interest in science. She’s now one of the female academic role models featuring in posters as part of UCLan’s campaign to promote women in STEM, addressing stereotypes which infer science, technology, engineering and mathematics are male subjects.
Dr Heaton-Marriott’s first brush with the impact of science came as a 10-year-old, when she wrote into a television show about her concern over the pollution in a stream near her house. As a result, a television report ensued which sparked an investigation by the environment agency. “When I look back, this was the catalyst of my love for putting knowledge into real world context.”
At UCLan, Dr Heaton-Marriott is head of communications and engagement within the marketing department. Her role is to look after external communications and media work, internal communications to staff and students, and a wide repertoire of engagement activity, from stakeholder dinners through to large public festivals. “Every day is different and I’m constantly challenged to come up with new ideas and creative solutions. The Lancashire Science Festival, an annual community event which aims to inspire people through science, is one of my favourite projects, as it draws upon my existing scientific expertise, combining my love of science with communication.”
Although a report commissioned by EDF energy has revealed a third of British schoolgirls consider themselves not clever enough to pursue a career in science, Dr Heaton-Marriott contests the stereotype that STEM subjects are ‘for boys.’
I enjoyed science at school because it was challenging; this appealed to me. It was all about ability, rather than gender. But gender stereotypes may have something to answer for here; when you look at the way toys are marketed for example, microscopes, telescopes and Lego tends to be categorised as ‘boys toys’ – whereas art and design kits are for girls. Also the use of pink for girls, blue for boys, makes it feel that children don’t have a choice. We also need to stop ‘feminising’ things to make them appealing, such as science kits around cosmetics or pink lab coats. Science is appealing anyway. However, I do think it’s true that girls can be less confident than boys in their own capability, and I can see how this may put them off STEM subjects, as they feel they’re not clever enough.
UCLan’s ongoing campaign to promote women in STEM includes posters featuring six of the University’s female academic role models, produced in relation to the Athena Swan Bronze award which recognises commitment towards advancing women’s roles in STEM. The one featuring Dr Heaton-Marriott refers to her love of family fun, showing how people combine a successful career in STEM with personal interests and hobbies. “I have a son and two stepchildren, and spending time with them is an absolute priority. We have a shared love of exploring, so we can often be found venturing through woodlands, cycling or enjoying family walks.”