Before dawn this past Tuesday morning, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee tweeted that it was “pleased to announced our membership has been confirmed.” Parliamentary committees had been dissolved after the recent U.K. election, and now the panel was rolling out its new contingent of lawmakers. The only problem: All eight of the mostly smiling faces belonged to men.
This made the science committee Parliament’s only panel without any women. In the previous Parliament, women made up 60% of the membership of the science committee, including its first chair.
Many observers were dismayed. “My heart sank,” blogged Sarah Main, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering in London. Physicist Athene Donald of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom opined in The Guardian: “It is not encouraging for young female scientists to see that parliament apparently cares so little about their futures that they couldn’t even come up with even that long-derided sole token woman.”
Jo Johnson, minister for universities and science, called for the situation to be resolved so that the science committee has “basic legitimacy.”
The chair of the committee, Norman Lamb of the Liberal Democrat Party, quickly turned to damage control. “I think it’s essential that the committee has women in its membership,” he tweeted, explaining that the United Kingdom’s political parties are in charge of selecting committee members. Lamb wrote to the party whips yesterday urging them to include women in the nominations to fill three remaining chairs.
An “embarrassed” Darren Jones, who was selected by the Labor Party to be a member of the science committee, told The Independent: “I normally refuse to take part in all male panels, which makes the makeup of this committee difficult for me.” He explained that no women in the Labor Party had volunteered to be on the science committee. “The main challenge is most of the women Labor MPs [members of Parliament] who have experience in this area are already busy doing other things.”
Yesterday afternoon, Vicky Ford announced she was “chuffed to be elected.” Ford, the conservative MP for Chelmsford, U.K., was previously a member of the European Parliament where she was involved in setting up Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research funding program. Another slot was taken by Adam Holloway, conservative MP for Gravesham, U.K., who has a background in TV journalism.
Lamb’s letter also asked the parties to review how they make nominations for committee membership “to encourage an appropriate gender-balance and wider diversity.” No response yet, according to a committee spokesperson.
One chair on the panel remains to be filled, by the Labor Party.