Greenfield exits Royal Institution, claiming sex discrimination

Baroness Greenfield made history when she became the first woman to head one of the country's oldest scientific organisations. Now, she is accusing the Royal Institution of Great Britain of sexual discrimination.

Sources in the scientific community yesterday expressed doubts that sexism was at play in the institute's decision to end its relationship with Lady Greenfield, instead blaming financial troubles. The IoS reported last month that the institution's £22m renovation project had run over budget.

The organisation announced last Friday that its director had left after trustees concluded that the role of director in its current form was no longer needed.

Lady Greenfield said she was "saddened and dismayed" at the decision. The University of Oxford neuroscientist said: "As well as contesting the legitimacy of the process, I will be presenting a claim in the employment tribunal which will include allegations of sex discrimination."

Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, head of division of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, said yesterday that the removal of a director was problematic. "I think that's of concern to the scientific community," he said. "An organisation like that ought to be led by a scientist, not by a CEO who does not have a scientific background, as far as I know."

In her 12 years as director, Lady Greenfield polarised opinion in the scientific community. She was the first woman to deliver the institute's Christmas lecture, and her achievements included masterminding the renowned Science Media Centre.

But while insiders acknowledge that she helped to modernise the organisation, there are suggestions that she put off some people who could potentially fund it.

Lady Greenfield said in her statement: "I am the only female who has been appointed to this iconic post throughout the 211-year history of the Royal Institution and cannot see how this decision can be in the best interests of the organisation or its members."

Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Oxford and Warwick, said Lady Greenfield was "very creative and made a big difference at the RI", adding: "It would be very unfortunate if the contribution [the RI] can and should make would be jeopardised by what has happened."

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