Education

Steer through the roadblocks

Having more women in STEM fields is necessary not just for gender equality but for improved innovation and development. But what is holding them back?

We have taken too long to understand that in order to bring positive economic and social changes in society, educating women is important. But our presumptions and prejudices regarding their field of education, and nature of work have not been completely eliminated. Talking about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) specifically, the notion that pursuing technology-related jobs is harder for women restricts their participation in these disciplines.

According to a research, most people associate science and math fields with men, and humanities and arts fields with women. Despite the efforts of various organisations, under-representation of women in STEM remains a pressing issue across the globe. The numbers are shocking. According to research by Women in Global Science & Technology, women make up less than 13% of STEM workforce in India. Studies show that it is not an ability-related issue.

Obstacles

Continual discouragement, lack of role models, negative peer pressure, domestic barriers, dissatisfaction with departmental culture, lesser advancement opportunities for women who are married or have family responsibilities, lesser chances of leadership roles, and pre-conceived opinions about women emerge as major roadblocks for women in STEM. Also, the lack of female mentors in the these fields contributes to fewer women choosing to pursue a degree or career in STEM.

One of the biggest reasons of lesser number of women in STEM is gender bias. As per research, more than 74% of women engineers report having to prove themselves over and over again to get the same level of respect as their male colleagues. To promote women in STEM, organisations need to create more inclusive workplaces by having women in leadership and decision-making roles.

Another factor that causes less women participation is the double-burden (work-life balance) faced more by women than their male counterparts. Taking a career break for a personal reason has created a huge pool of talent that finds it difficult to get back on track. It is one of the primary reasons for mid-career dropouts by women. These candidates experience a high roadblock to career re-entry, as organisations are resistant to hire such people.

Win-win

There are several reasons why the country needs more women in STEM. Fast-growing STEM jobs build the world — transportation, clean energy, infrastructure, biomedicine, geoscience, and many more. There are huge opportunities for women in such jobs, yet there are very few of them joining these sectors. We cannot achieve our true potential with a gender ratio that is highly skewed. When people from different backgrounds come together to build a solution, they bring in new and fresh perspectives. A team of diverse people develops improved and innovative solutions.

Introducing classes

The onus, goes to the teachers in schools to provide a broader perspective of the field in introductory courses to encourage girls. Likewise, colleges and universities can attract more female science and engineering faculty by improving departmental culture to promote the integration of female faculty.

While we have come quite far, there is more to be done in order to attract more women to STEM. We must to intervene early to eliminate the obstacles to women’s entry into engineering-related domains and encourage them to consider pursuing a career in this field to avoid building a think tank that only includes half the population.

Teachers, families, and employers play an important role in making STEM fields more gender-inclusive. Each of them can help break the set preconceived notions and encourage women to pursue their dreams, give them equal opportunities and support them with equal vigour as they do the men in their families.

Women can also do more to support other women. Research shows that some women expect those that come after them to overcome the same challenges they faced — that they must work ‘like we did’ before giving them a chance to shine at their jobs. If we struggled, we did it so we could be here and pave the way for them to skip the struggles and reach their career goals faster like the women who did that for us in the earlier generation. The sisterhood needs to act like one, without forcing the younger generation to prove themselves to us as well.

The writer is senior manager of Research, The Society of Women Engineers.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 3:20:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/steer-through-the-roadblocks/article27169834.ece

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