Editor's Insights

Women in STEM. Where are you?

When India successfully launched the Mangalyaan, it scripted a history that can, may be, never be replaced. What was a more appreciable sight? That the project was largely led by women scientists clad in saree. We always praise such instances but are we doing enough for the women in STEM as a nation?

India is widely recognized for producing the highest number of female graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), but women constitute merely 14 percent of the total 2,80,000 scientists, engineers, and technologists in research development institutions in India (UNESCO). And when it comes to employing them, we rank 19th globally. This under-representation of women in STEM puts them at a high risk of becoming obsolete in the world of technology. On the other hand, despite having larger than life debate on women empowerment and gender equality, and having women contributing massively in the field of STEM, they are known to be paid less for their research work compared to men, thus chopping their wings so that they don’t progress much in their careers.

Where are We Stuck?

If you wonder what the sociology behind this is, there lies more than one reason. Mame Omar Diop, Chief of Education Sector, UNESCO, said in a webinar, “The gender stereotypical perceptions about ability and appropriate careers for girls and women exists even today”. This is largely because of the societal paralysis than anything else. Women face discrimination right from their birth (though not all of them). This is just the beginning though as families stereotype that STEM is for men, and hence women are encouraged to opt for courses which suites them, i.e. less strenuous. Even in the 21st century world, some parents refuse to send their girls outstation for education. What else can a girl do at such a tender age? Prepare herself to get married and think low of herself.

This largely reflects during their job interview and placements, where unlike men they don’t self-promote or be boastful of themselves. Even as colleagues, women’s opinion & suggestions are heard less compared to their male counterparts. Aren’t these enough to break someone’s confidence? Even post marriage, a large number of STEM professionals quit their jobs to look after their family, hanging their boots forever. Only some of them wear those boots again and march in the field high-headed.

Is the Scene Same across the World?

Even in its history of 120 years, only 57 women were awarded Nobel Prize in total and if we talk about STEM, 12 won in Physiology or Medicine (5.4 percent of 222 laureates in total), seven in Chemistry (3.8 percent of 186 laureates in total), and four in physics (1.9 percent in 216 laureates in total). So I think not only India, but globally there is a crisis for women in STEM. Hence not just India, but the world across need to work in tandem to ensure women are welcomed, appreciated and awarded in the field of STEM. We need more examples like Marie Curie and Irene Joliot-Curie, who are the only mother-daughter duo who won Nobel Prizes.   

It’s not they who have to work towards getting recognized but it’s us as a society who needs to reflect within ourselves to introspect what can be changed or fixed to ensure more women power gets added to the global human resource. Indeed women have chaired and transformed various researches and organizations. Its only time we take a step towards levelling the field for them for a fair play.