'Women should seize more opportunities in science', says leading geneticist

Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Professor Meena Upadhyaya overcame racial and gender discrimination in the 1980's to become the first female British-Indian professor in medical genetics.

The honorary professor of Cardiff University Medical School’s Institute of Cancer has authored more than 200 articles and gained numerous accolades for groundbreaking work in her field, including an OBE in 2016.

She won an OBE for her work in 2016. Credit: Meena Upadhyaya

Professor Upadhyaya told ITV News women should seize more opportunities in science and medicine to tackle the underrepresentation of women in senior positions.

"I think there are a lot of opportunities for women, but we are still not quite there. Things are moving slowly but there is a bright future for women in Wales"

Success for the professor did not come easy.

She spent her early life as a housewife after arriving in Cardiff at the age of 19 in the 1980's. It wasn't until the tragic death of her husband that she pursued a career in genetics.

She was a single mother to a young daughter at the time, with no family around. She said she worked long hours carrying out experiments in the evening at home.

I think it probably has something to do with my faith and my religion as well. I just thought I'm not going to allow myself to be in this position. I can do it. And at some point my hard work will pay.

Meena Upadhyaya

A Masters from Edinburgh, a PhD from Cardiff, and a fellowship from the Royal College of Pathologists followed.

Meena was a single mother to a young daughter, with no other family around. Credit: Meena Upadhyaya

It wasn't just a lack of support, but racial, religious, and gender discrimination that were a barrier to success in her career.

Of course on a number of occasions, I was discriminated on the basis of my gender as well as race. And it obviously made me very upset and there were tears at times, restless nights, but I always managed to bounce back. Everyone has the potential, it's up to you how you utilise it.

Meena Upadhyaya

Now in her 50's, Meena is an an advocate of women's rights and the founder of the Ethnic Minority Welsh Women Achievement Association. Her difficulties drove her desire to help others achieve, particularly in the Asian community.

I am passionate about promoting women. I have set up an awards ceremony for BME women called the Welsh Asian Women Achievement awards and the aim of this project was to empower Asian women living in Wales, recognise their contributions and identify role models for their communities.

Meena Upadhyaya