The Groundbreaking Professor
The first ever female president of the Royal Society of Chemistry in its 175-year history, Professor Lesley Yellowlees, has devoted over 30 years to research, winning her international acclaim. Originally from Edinburgh, she is also a mother-of-two. At one of my first meetings as Head of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, I walked in and a man said ‘Oh good, we’ve found a secretary, can I have a cup of tea?’ Now I could have reacted with horror, but instead I laughed. The other men at the meeting, who knew me well, were on the floor in tears of laughter! He was mortified, but I’ve never let him forget it! Sometimes I will go to a conference and my husband will join me if he fancies visiting the place. Often when we arrive he is greeted ‘Professor Yellowlees, delighted to meet you’, people assume he is the professor. He replies: ‘You’ve got the wrong one, it’s my wife’. It’s an example of unconscious bias. I have two children, Sarah is 32 and Mark is 30. I took three months off when Sarah was born and four months with Mark. I enjoy being a mother but I also love my job, I need to work to fulfil myself. But experiments don’t finish at 5pm, so I’ve been lucky that I had family close by and support from colleagues and my husband.
I don’t see the blocks because I am a woman.
Yes, you have to work hard, but I don’t think that’s a male or female thing. For me, being a woman has sometimes worked in my favour. Because I am one of only a few women in my industry, people usually know who I am. The Royal Society of Chemistry asked me what I wanted to do in my two years of presidency and I said I wanted to highlight that being a woman in STEM is a wonderful career to have. You have got to look for the opportunities in your path and go out and grab them.
‘I once attended a meeting and a man said ‘Oh good we’ve found a secretary’.’
Blazer, £45, dress, £49, necklace, £15, all at Debenhams. Hair and make-up: Annabel Wilson