Gender Gap in STEM Field

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    In Context

    • The United Nations has highlighted the need for inclusive technology and digital education to narrow the Gender gap in the domains of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – collectively termed the STEM fields.

    About

    • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – collectively termed the STEM fields – continue to be dominated by men. 
    • Given the pervasive influence of STEM fields in modern life, women’s underrepresentation in these fields poses a major challenge.
    • Recently, International Women’s Day 2023 (IWD) was commemorated under the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.

    Gender Gap in STEM Field

    • Global Scenario: 
      • Globally, 18 percent of girls in higher-level education are pursuing STEM studies, compared with 35 percent of boys.
      • Even within the STEM fields, there lies a gender divide, with similar numbers of boys and girls pursuing natural sciences while far more boys looked to engineering, manufacturing and construction.
      • The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that 41 percent of women in developing countries are illiterate, compared with 20 percent of men.
    • Indian Scenario:
      • In India, the enrolment of girls in engineering programmes is significantly lower when compared to their male counterparts. 
      • According to data from the All India Survey of Higher Education for 2020-2021, the overall in UG, PG, MPhil and PhD engineering programmes, the total enrolment is 36,86,291 where 71 percent of enrolled students were males and 29 percent were females.
      • However, of all students enrolled in the STEM field, women at 53 percent of enrolment outnumbered men and some increases have been witnessed of late. These gains, though, don’t necessarily mean there will also be an increase in employment, because of multiple factors.

    Reasons for Gender Gap

    • Societal attitudes: Though the presence of existing resources such as mentors and programmes offering scholarships, the general societal attitudes on women’s education do not encourage families to invest in it as much as they do for boys. 
      • For example: Stereotypical gender roles like women work as housewives.
    • Gender bias in curricula:  For instance, in India, more than 50 per cent of illustrations in math and science textbooks in primary show boys and only 6 percent show illustrations of girls.
      • In the UK, over a quarter of girls say they have been put off a career in tech as it is too male-dominated and only 22 per cent can name a famous female working in the field.
    • Discrimination in employment: Women continue to face the same kind of discrimination at work as they face in society.
    • Timing in a scientists’ career: The prime time for a scientist in his/her career is also the time when women usually get married or have children. This puts a lag on their career. Even a six months delay in research in science, particularly experimental work, implies that your work gets left behind and your career suffers.
    • Lack of STEM Institutions: STEM institutions and colleges dosent’s established in the nearby area.
    • Cascading impact: Lack of women in STEM to inspire other girls.

    Government Initiatives

    The government has implemented a slew of measures to encourage women in science. Some include:

    • Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI): It is a pilot project under the Department of Science and Technology to promote gender equity in science and technology. In the first phase of GATI, 30 educational and research institutes have been selected by DST, with a focus on women’s participation in leadership roles, faculty, and the number of women students and researchers. 
    • Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN): It is a plan under the Department of Science and Technology to encourage women scientists and also prevent women scientists from giving up research due to family reasons. 
    • SERB-POWER (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Exploratory Research): SERB – POWER provides structured support in research to ensure equal access and weighted opportunities for Indian women scientists engaged in R&D activities.
    • Consolidation of University Research through Innovation and Excellence in Women Universities (CURIE) Programme: Only women Universities are being supported for the development of research infrastructure and the creation of state-of-the-art research laboratories to enhance women’s participation in the S & T domain.
    • Vigyan Jyoti Scheme: It encourages girl students of Class 9 to 12 to pursue education and career in S&T, particularly in the areas where women are underrepresented.
    • National Award for woman scientist: To recognize the contribution of women scientists in the field of Earth System Sciences, Ministry of Earth Sciences has initiated a special award called “National Award for woman scientist” which is conferred to one-woman scientist each year on the Foundation Day.
    • Setting up of creches: Some institutions are setting up creches so that the scientist mothers can carry on with their research work uninterrupted. 

    Way Ahead

    • Need for societal change: Societal systems and biological asymmetry, family upbringings have cultivated a mindset in children, especially among girls who feel that they are not up to it.
    • Flexibility on worker’s part: Circumstances should be created to make working easier for a woman in the STEM field in particular and the rest of the field in general. Providing Menstrual leaves & creche facilities would be a good step in this regard.
    • Other reforms: Like Return-to-work programmes for women, closing the pay gap, initiating a well-planned role model for STEM programmes.

    Source: IE