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Q. “Gender inequality in STEM can only become a thing of the past if collective efforts, from the society, families, educational institutions and government, are given to fight against it”. Comment.14 Mar, 2022 GS Paper 1 Indian Society
- Start with some data on women's representation in STEM.
- Discuss some of the reasons for the low representation of women in sciences.
- Discuss how collective efforts from different sections of the society is needed to fight this inequality.
The underrepresentation of women in the sciences exists across the entire career trajectory — in recruitment and promotion, in awards, in selection to science academies as members/fellows and in leadership positions in scientific institutions.
The status of women’s representation in science academies reflects their overall position in the scientific community.
A survey conducted in 2020 showed that out of 1,044 members of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), only 89 are women, amounting to 9%. In 2015, it was worse with 6% women scientist members out of 864 members.
Similarly, the governing body of INSA had seven women out of 31 members in 2020, while there were no women members in 2015.
Causes for Under-representation of women in Science -
- Stereotypes: The paucity of women in STEM is not merely due to skill inadequacy, but also a result of assigned stereotypical gender roles.
- It is still considered okay to judge the parental or life-partner status of a woman scientist while deciding to hire her or give her a leadership position, overlooking her merit.
- A common norm, it has become that women spouses of already hired faculty, however meritorious, will not be hired.
- Patriarchal and Societal Causes: There are patriarchal attitudes in hiring practices or awarding fellowships and grants etc.
- Stressors related to marriage and childbirth, pressures to conform to societal norms and trappings of domesticity - responsibility related to running of households and elder care further hinder the representation of women in these ‘non-conventional’ fields.
- Lack of Role Models: Organisational factors have also played a big role in preventing gender parity. Lack of women leaders and women role models may be preventing more women from entering these fields.
- Absence of Supportive Institutional Structure: Women leave the workforce, due to the absence of supportive institutional structures during pregnancy, safety issues in fieldwork and workplace.
- Not just societal norms but issues related to poor education and healthcare access are responsible for a lesser number of women in these fields.
Steps that can be taken in order to reduce the inequality -
- Role of Science Academies: While the given issue emanates from the larger problem of the underrepresentation of women in all spheres of life, its persistence in science shows that scientists and science academies need to develop policies and strategies to enhance the representation of women.
- More importantly, science academies have to reflect upon their role and contributions to promote and retain women in science, thereby making science inclusive and sensitive.
- Bringing Behavioural Changes: Subdued gender participation emanates from social-economic issues, which can be treated by bringing behavioural change.
- This can be changed if more women are given leadership positions.
- Contributions of women in the STEM sector should be highlighted in textbooks thus making them the role models for the next generation of girls to be leaders in the STEM sector.
- It is imperative that we understand and remove the sexism and institutional obstacles that prevent more women from entering the scientific field.
- Realising Manifold Significance of Higher Representation: Women’s representation in science and technology is essential to design inclusive and sustainable societies.
- Gender equality is not just an ethical imperative, but also a business priority. Organisations with greater diversity among their executive teams tend to have higher profits and greater innovation capability.
- We all must increase efforts to rapidly change the status quo. This fight against gender disparity must be fought by all — families, educational institutions, companies and governments.
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