Sci{l}ence is a weekly podcast for women in STEM. It gives women a platform to talk about what it is really like working in typically male-dominated fields. All the guests are highly accomplished and inspiring women in STEM, deliberately kept anonymous with disguised voices. This allows them to enjoy the freedom to speak openly and honestly about their personal journeys, and minimises how others could judge them by their academic achievements, what they look like and/or any other ‘societal’ labels and badges. Felix sat down with the host of Sci{l}ence, Dr. Shini Somara.

Could you describe to me how the podcast came to being. Firstly, how long have you been doing it?

Last weekend I released episode 36. It came about really because I studied Mechanical Engineering [at Brunel] myself and there were very few women on my course. As a result of being at university for almost eight years because I did my bachelors and then I went on to do a doctorate, I spent pretty much eight years never really talking about my experiences in studying engineering. When I got into television, I was conducting reports on a really diverse range of science and tech and innovation stories. Often, when the cameras would be turned off and they were just being their natural selves, we would have really insightful conversations about what it’s like being a woman in STEM. It really gave me an insight into their world as human beings rather than scientists. It got me thinking about how to bring out this kind of truth without compromising on their identities and their reputations, and that’s how the podcast format came about and then the name just popped into my head out of nowhere. There’s so much power in silence.

What are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in doing the podcast?

The biggest challenges have been finding women who are willing to get involved because anonymity is something that we really are not familiar with in this day and age. The ability to truly trust anonymity on the podcast makes women hesitate to come on

Going forward, what do you see as the future of the podcast?

I’m hoping that it will be a place where it will inspire others. I’m hoping that the podcast will be a place where people can just get a bit of the ability to relate. I think also I would like to change attitudes. I actually would prefer it if more men listened to the podcast than women because I think what’s difficult for women in STEM is male attitudes towards them being in STEM. I’d love to have some kind of impact, even if it’s a small dent, on our perception of stereotypes, cultural and traditional values and beliefs towards women in STEM. I’d just like to make a bit of a difference in uniting men and women in STEM because I think there’s such a divide.

Do you think it’s possible to affect meaningful change with regards to attitudes towards women in STEM if men continue to not engage with the movement?

It’s a really tricky question because, on the one hand, a lot energy is being put into encouraging women. In order to do that, I’ve seen that they exclude men, just so that they’ve got a safe space. We need to change the way we’re raising our men. From young, we need to develop a respect for what women can bring to the table. A massive change is required. When we do include them, we should let women take the stage and not be overshadowed by what men can bring.

Either through the podcast or through personal experience, what would you say are the biggest issues that are faced by women in STEM?

I think the biggest issues are self belief. I think another one is fighting the discrimination and how much energy that takes; women getting to a point where they’re like, “Why am I bothering? I’m already in something so hard and then I’ve got to prove myself extra hard because I’m a woman”. There are so many issues because there are so few of us and that can be additional pressure. There’s a lot of challenges that we face and it’s actually really admirable how much we take on board as women in STEM. Of the women that I have spoken to, they just absolutely love their job and so you can see that satisfaction is what keeps them going.