Dear India Inc., Let’s Talk About The Missing Women In STEM

Even at the C-suite level, only 3% of women hold the post of CEOs in the STEM industry.

Dear India Inc., Let’s Talk About The Missing Women In STEM

Are women not inclined towards maths and sciences? Or is there some research that indicates only men have that special gene required to grasp science, technology, engineering and maths subjects or STEM?

Then why is it that when we talk about STEM, it is completely the playground for boys & men. 

Data from the National Science Foundation shows that while 52% of women enrolled for science, technology, engineering and math courses for their graduation, only 29% of them actually joined the STEM workforce. Even at the C-suite level only 3% of women hold the post of CEOs in the STEM Industry. 

It’s not like women are not studying these subjects. According to World Bank data, women make up nearly 43% of the total graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in India—one of the highest in the world—but just 14% of scientists, engineers, and technologists in research development institutions and universities.  

There’s no shortage of women STEM teachers at school level in India, but when it comes to higher education, it once again becomes a boys club, once again reinforcing stereotypes.  

According to reports, at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, only 25 of the 143 professors (17.5%) are women. In IIT Madras, this number stands at 10.2% with only 31 of the 304 professors in the institute being women. To date, none of the IITs, or prestigious institutions like the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, or Mumbai's Tata Institute of Fundamental Research has had a woman director.

So how does a problem this unique emerge?

From our homes, point out experts. While boys are pushed to take sciences and maths, girls are pushed towards social sciences. Look at our toys, Little scientist for boys, and jewellery-maker the girls. This bias then travels to when it comes to hiring the STEM workforce—men make up a larger portion of entry level jobs, and when women do get hired, they face imposter syndrome. Add to that the isolation they face. Kelly Global Workforce insights say that nearly 81% of Indian women in STEM faced gender bias in performance evaluations and a large proportion felt that their companies would not offer them top positions. 

And that leads to a gap in pay. Women earn 15-30% less than their male counterparts and unlike other industries where women start off on even ground, when it comes to STEM, the gender based pay gap is right from the start.

The gender gap is even wider in scientific research field. Only one woman, Marie Curie, has been honoured twice, with the Nobel Prize in Physics 1903 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1911. Only 60 women in total have been awarded the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 2022. All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19 says, just 3% of women enrol in PhD in sciences and only 6% opt for a PhD in Engineering and Technology. 

The government has introduced programmes to increase women participation in STEM. Vigyan Jyoti scheme was launched by the Department of Science & Technology for the meritorious girls in high school to pursue STEM. 

Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions or GATI has a chapter focused on ensuring equality for women in STEM fields. And GATI works in close cooperation with Knowledge Involvement Research Advancement through Nurturing. The KIRAN programme helps women scientists and researchers find opportunities, specifically those who have returned from a mid-career break.

But change starts from home. Push girls in your families to take STEM subjects at schools. Help increase their curiosity. Dear India Inc., look at STEM roles with a gender neutral lens.

Support your women employees. Some tools can be women specific funding, fellowships and scholarships and flexibility and facilities at work place. Help them climb the ladder so they can be great role models for other women.  

Mugdha Kalra is a journalist with over 20 years of experience. She is a renowned inclusivity expert and was chosen as one of BBC100Women, 2021.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.