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More women STEM graduates, but very few in jobs

Wednesday September 15, 2021, By Janani Sampath

India may have a higher number of women STEM graduates at the tertiary level, ahead of developed countries like the US, the UK, Germany, and France. However, when you look at the number of women working in the field, it lags at 19th rank. Some of the reasons for fewer women entering the field are the gender pay gap and lesser recognition for their work. It also means that fewer women are in leadership roles, much like the scenario in other fields, where the number of women moving up the ladder sees a gradual fall.

The big numbers

Recently, in a response to a question raised in Lok Sabha, the Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan shared the statistics on STEM Graduates, revealing that at 43 percent, India has more women graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) at tertiary level. The numbers look enviable when compared with the UK (38 percent), US (34 percent), France (32 percent ), and Germany (27 percent). With the numbers rising from 10 lakh to 10.6 lakh in three years (2017 to 2020), more women were graduating in the field than men, while numbers in the latter category saw a dip in the same period.

While it is heartening to see the numbers increasing year on year, the real challenge now lies in their participation in the field.

The paradox explained

Across the world, women publish less work, but in India, the numbers are above the world average. As per reports, one in three papers published across 186 fields in the country is by a woman. However, their percentage is abysmally low at 14 percent, as per data from the United Nations. Experts also opine that long-held biases like the field being a man’s forte or considering women as any less competent are contributors to the gap. Moreover, women get paid less for their research work and do not progress in their careers proportionally when compared to men. The gender pay disparity discourages women from entering the field, apart from leaving them without many role models to aspire for and emulate. A fall-out of the disparity is that research and invention wouldn’t get a new dimension without more women in the space.

Bridge the gap

Recently, to change the tide, the government decided to rank higher education institutes based on gender equality to recruit, retain and promote women in the field. During the recent response, Pradhan also cited the scheme Knowledge Involvement Research Advancement through Nurturing or Kiran, which encourages women to engage in independent research. He also spoke about the Mobility program to help women scientists during relocations. The Indo-US fellowship program in STEMM (including medicine) aims to motivate women with collaborative research for three to six months.

However, while government initiatives can offer the bridge, the journey ahead for women can be enabled by a conscious change within the organizations that should shed its ‘bro culture’ to create an enabling atmosphere for women to participate and thrive. Further, making changes in its policies to accommodate the various changes that women in the field are likely to face — marriage and motherhood– can usher in a more balanced workforce.


Author Profile

Janani Sampath
Janani Sampath
With close to 15 years of experience in journalism across beats in multiple mediums, Janani Sampath is content editor, Diversity Digest.

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