My path into biomechanics was quite an unconventional one. My early career as a footballer was unfortunately cut short by a recurring knee injury that caused me to spend more time in the treatment room than on the pitch.
Whilst endless rehabilitation was understandably frustrating, the silver lining was my exposure to the fascinating world of biomechanics. And whilst football will always be my first passion, I’m fortunate to have built a successful career in biomechanics, working on the technology that helps us to understand movement of the human body.
But had my injuries not led me in this direction, then there’s a high chance I’d have not considered biomechanics as a viable career path. As in many STEM sectors, women remain highly underrepresented in biomechanics, particularly in senior leadership positions, meaning we are failing to attract all the talent and skills that women have to offer.
To address this imbalance there needs to be a concerted effort, at both an organizational and individual level, to understand why this is the case and to put steps in place to encourage more women to pursue this fulfilling career path.
Greater visibility in senior positions
Undoubtedly one of the greatest barriers to encouraging more women into the sector is the current lack of visibility of women in senior positions. Whilst percentage-wise men massively outnumber women, there is still a reasonably large pool of women doing brilliant work in biomechanics, yet they remain highly underrepresented in senior leadership roles.
This underrepresentation in senior positions means there is limited visibility for women in biomechanics and thus a lack of clear female role models for the next generation of biomechanists to look up to. If we are to encourage the brightest and best to pursue a career in the sector, then they need to be convinced that they can progress to the top of the field and be successful.
All colleagues within the industry have a role to play in levelling the playing field. When senior positions become available, be active in encouraging female colleagues who are qualified to apply for them.
In an industry where men traditionally dominated the higher positions, encouragement from our male allies is a small but valuable step that may give female colleagues the confidence to push themselves to their full potential.
Provide a platform for ideas to be raised
As issues of underrepresentation have gained prominence and become discussed more, there is a danger that organizations have become very good at paying lip service to improving gender representation, without necessarily listening to the lived experiences of those from underrepresented groups.
On an individual level, it is important that our male colleagues take the time to listen to the concerns and ideas of women within the industry on how to better improve it. Organizations can also put in place official forums for discussion where differing views can be heard and advice can be taken on board, to ensure change can be made for the better.
Over the past few years, several organizations have been set up to provide a platform for women within the field of biomechanics to share their experiences of working in the sector, and to encourage more women to get involved.
International Women in Biomechanics (IWB) and Advancing Women in Biomechanics (AWB) have members spanning 20 countries around the world, and regularly hold meetings, webinars, and events. These provide a safe environment for meaningful discussions for colleagues to listen, debate and recognize how biases exist in the industry and how they can be overcome.
These forums act as a fantastic opportunity for our male allies to learn more about the experiences of women in the field of biomechanics, and to actively work towards encouraging more women to get involved.
Inspire the next generation of female biomechanists
Solving the issue of female underrepresentation in biomechanics is not something that can be achieved overnight, but by following these three steps we can hopefully help turn the sector into a place that is far more accommodating to women, helping them progress into senior positions and inspiring the next generation of graduates to pursue a career in the field.
I have been some amazing role models within the biomechanics industry: Prof. Jacqueline Alderson of University of Western Australia, Prof. Elena Gutierrez Farewik of KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Vicon’s very own Imogen Moorhouse – to name just a few! They all have worked hard to get where they are today, and pushed through many barriers, and they all inspire, encourage, and speak out for women within the STEM sector. By raising awareness and giving our male allies the tools and information to encourage a new generation of female biomechanists, we will empower the future of the STEM sectors.