Stories of Men

A pioneering female physicist who has had to overcome casual sexism as she has gone on to excel in her career.

Pioneering Female Physicist on Challenging Sexism in the Workplace

“I think people are successful if they do what they really love and they do it with passion… For me, I've always followed my heart.”

Pioneering Female Physicist on Challenging Sexism in the Workplace

This episode of Our Voices tells the remarkable story of pioneering female physicist Dame Athene Donald and how she has had to overcome casual sexism as she has gone on to excel in her career. 

Athene’s experiences show how males’ attitudes within the scientific community, and in society more generally, so often act as a barrier to women becoming involved in science. We learn how, as a result, Athene has become an advocate for women. She is using her journey and success to show young women that a successful pathway in the sciences could also exist for them.

Childhood observations and growing interest in physics

Athene’s first sense that a career in physics was meant for her came when she was a young child. She was sick and had to stay in bed. During this time, she describes noticing something that intrigued her.

 “I remember shutting one eye and then the other eye and seeing how my nose got in the way.” 

It would turn out that Athene had discovered how light travels in a straight line but she wouldn’t have the words to articulate this until she began taking physics at school. “My memory is that, as soon as I was off at physics, I just thought, yeah, that’s it… it just made sense to me.”

A natural physicist

It was clear that Athene had an interest in physics from a young age. She was particularly intrigued by “everyday stuff”, the sorts of things you could see around you but needed physics to truly explain.

Fortunately, she had a supportive physics teacher but it was extremely uncommon for women to pursue physics when she was at school. Talking about her other female classmates, she says “Nearly all of them went into the arts. That’s just how it was.”

Life-changing news

Despite the above, none of Athene’s male classmates or male teachers ever told her that physics wasn’t for girls. So she continued her studies with confidence until she received some truly life-changing news.

She was performing in a concert with most of her family in attendance when her grandfather entered the school dressed in an overcoat and pyjamas. He had got out of bed to reveal to the family that a telegram of acceptance from Cambridge University had arrived. She had been accepted to study physics.

Initial discomfort

Athene’s choice of studies would cause some discomfort to those around her. When she announced at a party that she was off to Cambridge to study physics, she says “that was just the end of the conversation. I certainly very strongly got the impression that this was just beyond the pale.

It wasn’t what they were expecting, and they weren’t comfortable with it.” This would continue to be the case throughout Athene’s career as a female physicist.

Facing further discrimination as a female physicist

Athene gained her bachelor’s degree and then went on to study a PhD at Cornell University in New York. She was the first female postdoctoral student in her department and her presence there continued to cause discomfort and confusion.

An example of this occurred when she went to the faculty library to borrow a book “ they looked at me, and they accused me of having stolen my husband’s faculty card… I was so incensed. I was so angry. But it was just that feeling that they could not imagine that I could be serious, that I was a proper researcher.”

Casual sexism

Other examples of casual sexism occurred when Athene became a member of a university committee. The chairman addressed those in attendance as “gentlemen”, such sexist language completely excluded Athene’s existence in the room.

Athene’s complaints about this example of casual sexism were ignored until another male in the committee challenged the chairman’s behaviour. “You need allies… I think it’s hugely important… When it comes to gender, men have a hugely important role to play.”

A humiliating encounter

Athene’s pioneering studies as a female physicist would lead her to polymers in the 1980s and ‘90s. Her research was unique in that it often encompassed elements of biology as well as physics. 

In the late ‘90s she gave a speech on the physics of food, which was an overall success. But, later that evening, one individual at the event accosted Athene while she was having a drink with a friend. “He just started having a right go at me for working in this area that ‘wasn’t proper science’.” 

He went on to compare Athene’s groundbreaking research to home cooking. Athene simply left the bar because she was so upset. “I’ve never walked out of a conversation like that any other time in my life…  it was quite clear, there was no reasoning with this guy. He wasn’t he wasn’t talking seriously to me. It was just a tirade.”

Athene’s friend attempted to stick up for her but he also ended up leaving the bar. It was clear that the attack had occurred just because she was a female physicist.

Everyday sexism at work

Talking about the present: Athene believes that the situation has improved for women in science. However, women are still hugely underrepresented in physics and there is still a lot of everyday sexism at work. 

“We’re still a minority and people still forget to invite you to the pub after work, they talk over you in meetings. There are still ways in which the male majority in a field like mine doesn’t quite take women seriously sometimes.” 

Campaigning for equality

Such everyday sexism at work has led Athene to becoming a supporter for getting women involved in science. “Within my university, I was the first gender equality champion, not just for science, but across the board.” 

She also became the director of Cambridge University’s – Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Initiative. And she became chairwoman of the Athena Forum, an organisation that aims to advance women in science, technology, maths and medicine in UK higher education. 

Becoming a role model as a pioneering female physicist

On top of this, in 2010, Athene was awarded a DBE in 2010. This would raise her profile immeasurably. Talking about becoming a Dame, Athene says “I’m sure it gave me a platform and a voice and that people took me more seriously, even if I was exactly the same person.” It is clear that Athene’s profile makes her a natural role model for women in science. But this isn’t something that she is completely comfortable with.

 “I think it is necessary and I have kind of embraced it without really wanting it”. 

Athene has taken on the role because it has been necessary to challenge sexist attitudes, casual sexism and sexist language. By doing so, she provides an opportunity for more female physicists to follow in her footsteps.

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Stories of Men podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Stories of Men podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

Experience in Industry: 3


Favourite Food: Potatoes

Favourite Sport: Wild swimming

Favourite Show: Anything Marvel

Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

Favourite City: London

Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights


I’m the community manager at Stories of Men. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests. What I love most about working for Stories of men is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

Industry experience: 3 Years


Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.


I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Stories of Men podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

 Experience in Industry: 5 years


Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt



Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Stories of Men’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  





Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.


I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Stories of Men podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues regarding men that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.



Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

I’m the Editor of Stories of men. I craft compelling narratives from the stories of our fantastic guests, editing their interviews and scripting the episodes. I’m a freelance journalist and audio producer from Northern Ireland, currently based in California. I cover social issues, health and gender – with reporting in The Guardian, Vice, NPR, Cosmopolitan and many others. My focus is shining a light on the communities and initiatives that improve people’s lives. I have a background in the nonprofit space, having worked in communications for a mental health charity, as well as an education start-up. I mentor young female writers and sit on the board of an NGO that empowers women in global supply chains. 

Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live 

I am the host of Stories of Men. I help to find men that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet men from all walks of life and many of these guys had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Stories of Men’ because I wanted to give these men a platform to share their stories with the world.

I love the detail that people go into and how people craft stories in different ways. My dream and vision for the future would be countless people messaging to tell us how a particular episode has changed their lives!


Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.