‘Women scientists face systemic biases'

A student in the nutrition lab at the Avinashilingam University for Women in Coimbatore. File Photo: K. Ananthan  

The Indian science community has for long contended with one discomfiting statistic: a staggering 60 per cent of women with Ph.Ds in science do not make it to research positions in science institutes.

The reason, as conventional perception had it, was that women scientists were overwhelmed by family responsibilities, particularly after childbirth, and pressured to drop out of research.

But a new study presents a different picture of the Indian woman scientist — as someone with formidable tenacity and ambition, who ensures she balances career and family, working longer hours than her male counterpart, and proactive about keeping herself updated.

The proverbial “glass ceiling” that cuts short women's careers in science comes not from family, but largely from a systemic bias at the institutional level, finds the report titled “Trained scientific women power: How much are we losing and why?” co-authored by Anitha Kurup, Associate Professor; Maithreyi R., Research Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies; and Rohini Godbole, Professor at the Indian Institute of Science and Chair of the ‘Women in Science' panel of the Indian Academy of Sciences.

The three-year-long project created a database of 1,985 women with a Ph.D. in science, engineering or medicine in the 30 to 60 age group. The survey covered 568 women scientists and 161 men scientists in research. The women were divided into three categories: those engaged in research; those in undergraduate teaching, managerial or temporary research posts; and women scientists presently not working.

The majority of unemployed women Ph.Ds said they “did not get jobs” (66.7 per cent). “Family reasons” was cited by only 3.3 per cent as the main reason for not working. This lack of job opportunity underlines the need for transparency in the selection procedure at institutions, and also the importance of gender audits, says the report. A mandatory — and publicly displayed — gender break-up of staff, faculty and students would aid the process of increasing recruitment of women in science, it adds.

As many as 85 per cent of all women said they successfully balanced work and family, many of them choosing to negotiate “winding career paths” in an attempt to stay on the research track after childbirth. Interestingly, 13 per cent of women in research had chosen to remain single, compared to just three per cent of their male counterparts.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 10:21:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/lsquoWomen-scientists-face-systemic-biases/article16298901.ece

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