Women in dementia research – a better balance needed

Women in dementia research – a better balance needed

8 March 2019

On International Women’s Day, Alzheimer’s Society’s Dr Aoife Kiely explores the barriers that can exclude women from dementia research, and what Alzheimer’s Society is doing to redress this balance.

Dr Aoife Kiely

The number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations is beginning to increase, and it’s about time. Analysis of the UK labour force survey for 2018 by WISE records around 900,000 women in STEM occupations, but this still only makes up only 22% of the total STEM workforce and only around 13% of management roles are held by women. We know that the majority of women with STEM qualifications do not work in STEM careers, unlike their male counterparts. This means that the field is haemorrhaging talent.

Alzheimer’s Society is working hard to attract excellent researchers to dementia research and to keep them there. We have done this through taking part in establishing the UK Dementia Research Institute, as well as building supportive relationships with and rewarding our excellent researchers through our Dementia Research Leaders Programme.

Crucially we have most recently become one of the few charitable funders who provide maternity/paternity/adoption and sick pay and leave for our PhD students as well as providing guidance and support for more senior researchers. Our researchers have told us that lack of work life balance and support from research institutes is a major factor contributing to women leaving research. We recognise that PhD students are particularly vulnerable as they don’t pay national insurance and so are not entitled to government maternity/parental/adoption or sick pay.

At Alzheimer’s Society we believe that research funding organisations have a key role to play in keeping excellent female researchers in the field. We are continuously evaluating our research funding schemes to remove any gender based bias and support women in research. Of our 154 active research projects 85 are led by women, representing 55% of the current portfolio. More can always be done as research has shown that studies with at least one female contributor are more likely to tackle women’s health issues and difference between the sexes and we know that dementia is an issue that disproportionately affects women.

On International Women’s Day, we’re calling for a #BalanceforBetter dementia research. We’re also celebrating pioneering female dementia researchers around the world, the women who give their time generously by participating in research studies via Join Dementia Research, and the women affected by dementia that we work with and for, not just on International Women’s Day, but all year around.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s Society’s research work.