Championing women in pharmacology

In 1935 Mary Pickford became the first woman elected to membership of the British Pharmacological Society - just four years after the Society was initially formed. Fast forward 80 years and our membership currently includes around 1,300 female members, representing around 35% of the total.
This picture has improved gradually since 2004 when there was 30% representation. Part of the reason is because this year marked when the British Pharmacological Society first chose to lead the way in understanding and overcoming the reasons why women were under-represented amongst senior pharmacologists in UK industry, higher education and membership.
The Society’s own evidence showed that while student members were more or less evenly split between the genders (52% female), there was a steady decline in female membership from graduation onwards (25% women among Full Members, 15% among Fellows and 8.5% among Honorary Fellows). These numbers pointed to a steady ‘leakage’ of women from the pharmacology profession at the mid-career stage - hardly a surprise given that this ‘leakage’ is reflected across many Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.

It is no coincidence that the "leaky pipeline" begins around the time when many women in pharmacology are considering starting a family. The Society contacted some of the female pharmacologists who had left the workplace and asked them why they had decided to leave science. Responses were mixed, but a common theme was the perceived inability to remain competitive in a profession where success is measured by papers published and grants won, with little or no consideration given to time away from work e.g. maternity leave/childcare.

In 2013 the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee held an inquiry on careers for women in STEM careers. The British Pharmacological Society response, which was cited in the inquiry’s report, highlighted a range of options to work towards improving retention of women in pharmacology careers, based on its considerable experience within pharmacology.

It is clear to the Society that there is a specific need to provide additional support and guidance to female members of the pharmacology community throughout their careers.

Addressing the imbalance

Women in Pharmacology Advisory Group

The Advisory Group exists to help promote careers for women in pharmacology and clinical pharmacology and to address the under-representation of women at senior level.


To address the limited female representation amongst the winners of our awards and prizes, the AstraZeneca Prize for Women in Pharmacology was set up in 2009. While the Society’s longer term aim is to encourage women to nominate themselves and each other across all of our awards, this prize provides the opportunity to recognize pharmacology’s many female leaders and role models.


The Society offers a career break membership category that allows members taking extended leave to retain all of the benefits of membership without cost and regardless of gender.

Equality & diversity statement

Since 2013, the Society’s statement on equality and diversity included a commitment to achieving a minimum of 25% female representation across all management committees and activities by 2016 (in line with the Society’s five-year strategy). In 2015, Council agreed to increase this to 30%.

CEO Charter

In 2010 the Society signed the UKRC CEO Charter demonstrating our continued commitment to championing women in pharmacology
By signing the Charter we agree to:

  • Actively support the aim of increasing the participation, at all levels, of women in science, engineering and technology (SET).
  • Develop and communicate the business case for gender equality within our organization, our supply chain and our wider networks.
  • Promote and showcase our organizations approach and examples of best practice at relevant events and forums.
  • And, develop clearly defined strategies and implement practices which encourage women to enter and progress in, or return to, SET careers.

Useful links

Inspirational women role models: