International Women’s Day: Bridging the Gender Gap in STEM Careers

March 08, 2021 1:36 PM

India may have the highest share of women graduates in STEM at 43% globally but their proportion in STEM careers is barely 14% that underscores the need for affirmative action in this regard.

Women continue to face discrimination at the workplace in terms of promotion and career advancement opportunities. (File image: Agencies)

By Rohit Manglik

Few fields have had a significant impact on the human race as of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Science and technology have led to a great leap for humankind. However, the discourse of STEM has been largely male-dominated with the contribution of women relegated to the background. A McKinsey report has highlighted that bridging the gender gap in STEM can increase the contribution to the global economy by $12-$28 trillion.

India may have the highest share of women graduates in STEM at 43% globally but their proportion in STEM careers is barely 14% that underscores the need for affirmative action in this regard. While the female enrolment ratio in schools has increased over the years and more and more women are opting for science and technology at 10+2 level, they tend to drop out after the mid-level phase of their STEM career.

Gendered stereotypes, the perception of the household as women’s primary responsibility and the women’s education as a means to better marriage prospects rather than that for their career advancement are responsible for the abysmal participation of women in STEM.

Moreover, women continue to face discrimination at the workplace in terms of promotion and career advancement opportunities. The deep-rooted patriarchy at the workplace tends to limit networking opportunities among women. A Kelly Global Workforce Insights (KGWI) survey has highlighted that that 81% of Indian women in STEM jobs conceded facing gender bias in performance evaluation and that they drop out of the STEM workforce around the childbearing phase or at mid-management levels. According to the study, 42% of women leave technology companies after 10 years of experience as compared to only 17% of men.

The need of the hour is the multi-pronged approach, both in the domestic and professional spheres to encourage more women to take up STEM careers. At the policy level, the government has taken various initiatives such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and instituting scholarships for women under the Women Scientists Scheme and establishing Working Women Hostels and much more, it is imperative to ensure that eligible women are aware of these policies and their benefits of these percolate to the grassroots.

There is a need to inculcate a scientific temper and instil the spirit of critical inquiry right among the girl students from the school level onwards. The New Education Policy is a formidable step forward towards encouraging the vocationalisation of education. It also lays stress on practical components such as internships, project work, seminars, assessments, etc. that will prepare a futuristic women workforce in line with the requirements of the industry.

Corporates, too, need to step up efforts to bolster women participation in STEM careers. Enacting women-friendly measures such as creches for children, study leave, comprehensive learning and development programmes will go a long way in encouraging retention of women in STEM careers. Similarly, women should have access to sound networking and collaboration opportunities through professional forums, academia-industry collaboration and linkages among organizations.

In the domestic sphere, the support from not only the husband but also the extended family makes the difference. Sharing of family responsibilities and household chores by both husband and wife can be a great beginning in this regard. Civil society and non-government organizations can play a pivotal role in sensitizing about the significance of bridging the gender gap at workplaces through comprehensive Information, Communication and Education(IEC) campaigns.

The mainstreaming of this issue in the border context of approaching women empowerment in a multi-faceted manner is intrinsically linked to enhancing organizational outcomes besides leading to a translational impact on women’s lives and the society as a whole.

(The author is the CEO of EduGorilla. Views expressed are personal.)

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