Ruth giving a conference speech

Striking the balance for International Women in MS

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #balanceforbetter.

Ruth Dobson, a neurologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, tells us about the movement: International Women in MS (IWiMS) and what they’re doing to speak up for women in MS clinics and research around the world.

Where are the women?

We know gender inequality is a problem in science. Of the 900 or so consultant MS neurologists in the UK, only 250 are women. The situation in research is similar, with women holding less than a third of senior positions.

Inspiring a community

International women in MS (IWiMS) is a new initiative to support and inspire women working in MS clinics and research. The idea has grown from an informal meeting a year ago into a community with over 250 members in 20 countries.

Supporting each other

Along with colleagues from Australia and the USA, I've set up an international mentorship and sponsorship scheme. This scheme will create links between junior and senior women in the MS field, giving them support and accessible role models, and most excitingly, potential research collaborations and novel avenues for study.

We aim to develop a community that inspires women early in their career to stay in MS research. We've already created over 70 mentorship pairs and 30 peer sponsorship groups.

A better balance

There are many reasons why there aren’t enough senior women in science. An equal number of men and women initially train as neurologists and scientists, but the gender balance shifts through career stages for a number of reasons, not all of which are immediately obvious.

Increasing the number of women who stay in MS research or train as neurologists can only be a good thing. From a scientific perspective, increasing the diversity of scientists has the potential to increase the range and type of questions we ask ourselves.

Fair representation

Scientific conferences can reflect this imbalance. But asking the same key opinion leaders to speak every time is not the best way to explore new ideas. Making a conscious effort to invite new researchers alongside the “big names” and aiming for parity often results in a more innovative conference overall.

It's refreshing to see that the MS Society’s MS Frontiers conference has an equal number of men and women invited to speak and contribute to workshops.

I’m excited by the enthusiasm shown for IWiMS, and hope that we will be able to move towards #balanceforbetter during my career.