Lynne Franks: For they are jolly bad Fellows at the Royal Society

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The Independent Online

Among the thousands of professional women that I have met on the international women's conference and lecture circuit, I have noted that there are those from certain professions who seem much more disillusioned with their careers than others.

They feel, particularly after their mid-30s, that the stuffy, old-fashioned, male cultures that hold the power in their field don't support them, or indeed even reflect a modern view of the world - a world where women should be respected for their contribution, without having to pretend to be men.

Young women scientists are certainly among these. So how depressing for them to read this weekend that the most successful woman scientist in this country, the Oxford University neuroscientist Lady Susan Greenfield, is herself being held back from membership to the Royal Society, the ultimate upper echelon of the science establishment. Lady Greenfield is someone who has done much to popularise science, with her best-selling books and TV appearances. She has been credited with transforming the stuffy image of the Royal Institute, as its first woman director. But clearly the Fellows of the RS don't want transforming.

It appears, according to Ian Gibson, the Labour chairman of the Commons science and technology select committee, that several unnamed Fellows of the Royal Society have threatened to resign if Lady Greenfield is granted a fellowship, awarded to scientists every year for outstanding work in their field. It is fair to mention that there are 535 candidates for only 44 places, and also that I am not an expert on science. However the voting is to be done by her peers, who certainly are. So why should these "unnamed" autocrats feel the necessity to make these bullying threats?

The problem seems to be Lady Greenfield's so-called self-publicity, her wearing of miniskirts and her intention to bring science to the masses. The RS's traditionalists would prefer to keep the secrecy that surrounds research in this country, as if we mere normal mortals are not of high enough intellect or moral standard to be kept informed.

How different from the United States, where I lived for five years, and where scientists happily talk about their programmes on television, write books, become household names and indeed use this high profile to obtain further funding for research.

At no time has it been said that the fact that Lady Greenfield is a woman, and an attractive, independent woman at that, has anything to do with this. But the question has to be asked: would this have happened to a white middle-class man in a suit? Clearly, her feminine image goes against her.

Why is it that so many of the women I've met, whether in science, accounting, engineering or other male-led professions, feel that they have to dress and behave like men to succeed? The uniform of the black trouser suit and white shirt takes away our individuality and is ultimately soul-destroying. It is truly time for a revolution. And in the 21st century, we women are certainly not thinking of burning our bras. Far from it - the lacier and sexier the better.

Susan Greenfield is not only a standard-bearer for popular science; she is also a leader and inspiration for young men and women from all sectors. She does her job brilliantly while refusing to be anything less than her true self. She is sexy, clearly a natural communicator, and a visionary. The scientific establishment should be endorsing her at every opportunity, so that new, young emerging talent will be encouraged to enter their field. The approach and attitude of science's leaders need to be as cutting edge as their discoveries.

Lynne Franks lectures on women and business. Her new book 'GROW - The Modern Woman's Handbook' will be published by Hay House on 8 March

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