Women In STEM Careers: Societal Biases, Challenges & The Way Ahead!
Writer: Smita Jain (Guest Author)
Smita Jain is the Associate Director, Academic & Government Relations (India) at CACTUS. She is also a recipient of #IRMI Research Management Grant of India Alliance. She is a passionate about 'Careers in Science', 'Mentoring', and developing courses for 'professional development'.
India, 21 Dec 2022 6:10 AM GMT
Creatives : Ankita Singh
A literature lover who likes delving deeper into a wide range of societal issues and expresses her opinions about the same. Keeps looking for best-read recommendations while enjoying her coffee and tea.
Despite all the challenges that women face while advancing in their chosen career paths, a lot has changed and is changing constantly, and we remain hopeful that a lot more will change in the future.
From being denied publication authorships, leadership positions, academic society memberships, and entry into labs based just on gender to being subjected to several biases, women in science have come a long way.
Despite all the challenges that women face while advancing in their chosen career paths, a lot has changed and is changing constantly, and we remain hopeful that a lot more will change in the future. It is important to remember that these issues should not demotivate one from moving ahead. The old saying 'where there is a will, there's a way' holds true here as well. While a mindset change across society is indispensable, it is also true that once a woman decides to do something, no one can stop her!
Way back, Chemist Rosalind Franklin, microbiologist Esther Lederberg, and many others had to face strong biases and discrimination. But today, we have scientists like the virologist Gagandeep Kang, at the helm of academic and research institutions, carrying out cutting-edge research and leaving behind a global mark. A recent report suggested that many kids, when asked to draw a scientist, are now drawing women; this is a great change!
Not long ago, due to multiple societal and personal reasons, most women could not progress in their careers Possibly, for women, their career was a life-long journey that entailed hard work, passion, and focus and the happiness and contentment they derived from forging ahead without the expectation of rewards or recognition is perhaps unimaginable. They worked to fulfill their purpose and were unstoppable.
'Women In Science': Why Is It Talked About?
What is so special about a career in science for women? Is it tough and challenging? Do women lack the intelligence required for a career in science? Is it only for people who have no life outside their work environment? The answer to all these questions is 'no'.
Historically, men played the role of the provider and women that of a nurturer. However, with increased education and changing societal mindsets, the boundary of gender-based roles started to diminish and women became more aware and aspirant for positions they deserved based on skill sets and intellect. Women have all the attributes needed to establish a successful career – what is needed for them to flourish and get due recognition is eliminating hurdles that still exist in the ecosystem.
Growth Of Women In Sci-tech Sector
"With the gradual change in outlook both in individuals and the society and with myriad career opportunities opening up, the workforce of women has started to march forward without looking back. Now, women can choose to pursue academic (research or teaching) or non-academic career options (science communication, journalism, administration, patent law, technology transfer, sales and marketing, consulting, etc). The choices and opportunities are immense and ever-growing. A World Bank report, The Equality Equation: Advancing the Participation of Women and Girls in STEM, provides a rich overview of the global patterns of gender gaps in STEM education. The data from India is quite encouraging when compared to that of many other nations - 43% of STEM graduates in India are women as opposed to 34%, 31%, and 38% in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, respectively. However, the ratio of women pursuing science education to the number of women having a career in science still indicates a leaky pipeline, though gradually, that ratio is improving", says Abhishek Goel, Co-founder, and CEO of CACTUS.
There have been numerous government efforts and schemes to encourage more participation of women in science. Open forums, discussions, changes in policies, and societal mindset shifts are also positive contributors. Today, we have several women who are excelling and contributing immensely to the growth of the scientific ecosystem both nationally and internationally. The team of women space scientists who worked tirelessly to make the Mangalyaan mission of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) a success, is a great example of such a change.
Challenges Faced By Women In STEM Careers
Despite all the changes being seen in terms of increased women's participation and contribution to science, there still exist many challenges. These issues need immediate attention and alteration by the entire society and important stakeholders to be truly eliminated. Based on a report from 2020, women report a lower sense of belonging as compared to their male counterparts, they are given less respect and authority and need to work harder to achieve the same success levels.
High levels of bullying and harassment still exist in academic corridors. Initiatives like THINK Academia, the world's first global initiative against bullying in the academic community are working towards a global academic culture free from all forms of bullying, but concerted efforts from all parties are required to make a tangible change.
The other major issue faced by women is lower compensation than their male counterparts; academic institutions around the world need to revisit their payment policies and make the required changes toward much-deserved parity.
Parenthood is a significant challenge that often comes in the way of a woman's career. According to a report in Nature, more than 40% of women with full-time jobs in science in the United States leave the sector or go part-time after their first child.
By contrast, only 23% of new fathers leave their jobs or reduce working hours. This is alarming and requires drastic changes both at the societal and policy levels; systems need to be established to help women navigate this critical period without having to worry about their careers or dropping out.
This has been exemplified by many women in the bygone era and continues to hold true today where women are marching ahead across sectors, occupying key leadership positions, and making immense contribution to society.
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