In 2016 my previous university, Imperial College London, commissioned a report into the institutional culture at the university and and its impact on gender equality. This report found evidence of bullying and discrimination intersected with categories such as class, race and gender and linked this to the ‘elite’ white masculinity of the majority of the staff population. One participant in this research commented that the ‘ingrained misogyny’ at Imperial was so deep that it had become normal. The report also found examples of ‘misogynistic and homophobic conduct’ and of women ‘being silenced’ in various ways. The researchers concluded that it is difficult to promote equality and diversity within an institution which is so profoundly ‘gendered, classed and raced’.

Having spent four years at this institution, I have experience of the ingrained sexism and classism that this report describes. The findings do not shock me but I hope that they serve as evidence that urgent action is needed. From being one of a handful of women on my course, to hearing Emmy Noether (one of the greatest mathematical geniuses of the 21st century) described as a ‘clever girl’ by one of my lecturers, the barriers faced at university as a women were numerous.

From a young age it is ingrained into girls that a career in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) is not for them. In 2016 girls only made up 21.6% of A Level Physics entries. In addition the percentage of girls taking A Level Physics has not shown any signs of increasing since the 1990s but has remained at a disappointing level of between 20.7% and 23.1%. The fact that the proportion of girls has not increased despite national efforts such as Athena Swan and JUNO shows that radical action is needed.

I am now undertaking a PhD in Particle Physics at the University of Manchester. Although the School of Physics and Astronomy has made some progress, the barriers that remain for a female physics PhD students are unfortunately more apparent than ever. I went to several PhD interviews throughout the UK and was often faced with common rooms and interview panels consisting entirely of white males. I am currently the only women in my office and frequently have to attend meetings with all men. For a young women starting in the field, this can be damaging to your confidence and sense of entitlement to your place within the group.

I was recently told in the workplace that if I was bothered about the fact that there were so many men I should ‘go and do something else then’ and that the reason many women don’t want to study physics is that they are ‘wired differently’. Views such as this prove that we still have a long way to go.

Universities need to recognise the scale of the problem, enforce a plan of action to increase the number of female physics undergraduates and academics and set realistic long-term goals. Personally I believe this should involve quotas at undergraduate level in order to increase the number of women studying physics at the university and to encourage future years of female scientists.

Having been educated at a state school not far from the university and being a women in physics, these issues are extremely important to me. The underrepresentation of certain groups in physics and academia as a whole are an urgent problem. Universities such as Imperial and Manchester cannot fully embrace their world-class status until they stop recruiting from such a narrow sector of society and crack down on the ingrained culture of sexism.