“We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.” – Michelle Obama
Women in science, are wrought with issues of patriarchy, deep seated misogyny, prejudice and numerous difficulties. It is no wonder then that the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) are world over a male bastion. In India, only 14.3% of science researchers in India are women, as mentioned in a recent World Economic Forum report. Only 25-30% of science PhDs are women, according to a 2015 report by The Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia. Women account for only 20% of Isro’s total workforce of 14,246, according to a report on the website Quartz. Since its founding in 1963, of ISRO’s nine chairpersons, none was a woman. The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, India’s premier national science award, has been given to more than 500 scientists since its inception in 1958, only 15 of them went to women. The Inter Press Service news agency published a report in 2009 which revealed that female scientists are sidelined by male-centric selection committees for awards and for appointments to research and development positions in government-funded organizations. “Out of 744 Indian National Science Academy Fellowships, only 3.2% went to women. Out of 841 Indian Academy of Sciences Fellowships, only 4.6% went to women. Out of 395 National Academy of Agricultural Sciences Fellowships, only 4% went to women,” the report stated.
Women in science is an issue in not just India, but in every country. One reflection of this is Adriana Gascoigne, founder and CEO of Girls in Tech, a global non-profit organization founded in 2007, dedicated to eradicating gender disparity in technology. This year, the organization is hosting Amplify Women’s Pitch Night Competition. On November 16, 10 female entrepreneurs will pitch their early-stage technology startup to a panel of seasoned technology leaders and investors. The 10 finalists who were chosen from 139 applications from around the world come from diverse backgrounds including a medical doctor, students and one who worked for the Obama administration. The winner will receive $10,000 in funding, laptops and six months of office space at RocketSpace. The finalists consist of some very interesting startups including Dot Laboratories (which offers diagnostic tests for endometriosis), FINDMINE runs product catalogues and retailer looks against user data and Indian Moms Connect (community for Indian moms), among others.
In India, various such initiatives are coming up, to encourage more women to not only take up science at the higher education level, but also to actively pursue careers in the STEM subjects. In 2014, Microsoft India today launched ‘Women in Tech’, an initiative aimed at bringing in more women into the Indian IT industry. Through this program, Microsoft will attract and retain women talent in the industry. Along with partners, Microsoft will train and mentor one million girls and women in the next 12 months. These will include girl school students, young women students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) colleges, women IT professionals and women entrepreneurs. As part of the initiative, Microsoft launched a unique online platform which can be accessed at www.microsoftwomenintech.in. Similarly, a few days back, Adobe also organized a coding event exclusively for women.
It is unfair to say that the science domain is independent of society. Much of the misogyny in science labs and organizations is a direct reflection of stereotypical patriarchal notions revolving around women- that they prefer ‘relaxed’ jobs, that they would not be able to effectively carry out research once they have family responsibilities, and many more. Thus, while challenging misogyny is a long drawn out process, which requires intervention at all levels, what needs to be done is to encourage girls right from the school level to engage in scientific subjects and activities. Further on, more opportunities must be provided at the university and career level, for women to not only get entry into science departments, but conducive environments for research must be created, so that women can sustain jobs well into their lifespan.
We applaud this initiative by Girls in Tech, and hope that more such events are held, so as to bring more women in STEM subjects to the forefront, and enhance the value of scientific research carried out in the world.
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