The theme of #BalanceforBetter for this International Women’s Day, is very apt as there is a great need for a more gender balanced world. In the field of science and technology although much efforts are being made to reduce gender disparity, there is still much to be done.
Barely 22% of artificial intelligence (AI) professionals globally are female, according to The World Economic Forum 2018. Despite a critical demand for AI skillsets there is a gender gap of 72%. While women have made incredible breakthroughs in science and technology for centuries, they are often unknown to the world, or only honored retrospectively. The importance of women in science became evident in 1903 when Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics, and then went on to win a second Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911.
The National Task Force on women in science states that women constitute just 15% of the Indian research and development workforce, while the global average is 30%. To reduce this gender gap, we need to help more women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Every woman should have the chance to follow Marie Curie’s footsteps. Gender equality in science and technology is not only vital to achieve the sustainable development goals, but it is also a critical element to create a flourishing culture of innovation in the enterprise. A highly diverse team with different perspectives and skill sets fuels a company’s ability to innovate and stay competitive.
Over the years, the interest to study STEM has increased. According to a MasterCardstudy, over 85% of girls between the age of 12-14 want to pursue studies in these fields. Yet, we see the numbers dropping. A first step and the most difficult one is to change the mindset of the society. Educational institutes and the community should encourage girls from primary school to select a STEM field for their higher education. They shouldn’t be subjected to any gender-bias and pre-conceived stereotypes for their career.
We see the gender disparity increasing after students enter the workforce and pursue their careers. Due to family pressure and household responsibilities, many female graduates fail to convert their degree into a fulfilling career or stop pursuing managerial and leadership roles. To close this gender gap, corporations are focusing on creating a work environment that empowers women to start and grow their career as part of their diversity and inclusion strategy. Companies have started to introduce policies and flexible work models, such as extended maternity leave, so that women can better balance their professional and personal life. The Government has also put in place programs that encourage girls to pursue a career in STEM, such as the Vigyan Jyoti scheme, advanced by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Inspire-MANAK (Million Minds Augmenting National Aspiration and Knowledge).
We have learned that broadening access to education entails more than setting up the infrastructure, the school, classes, materials, and transportation. It first and foremost requires overcoming stereotypes. As part of all educational programs, a module to educate the families about the opportunities their girls can have with access to education should be incorporated. Only when girls can see the possibilities for their future and get access to education can we achieve gender parity in science and technology, not just in India, but globally.