Women in STEM

Women in STEM

Globally, women participation in STEM has been low. While in India, the number of women in STEM is better than in most other countries, we too could do better. What are the reasons for this gender gap in STEM? How do we address it? Read on to find out.


Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, abbreviated as STEM, are some fields of study which are lucrative with great scope for the future. Global trends show that people employed in STEM fields earn nearly two-thirds more than their counterparts employed in other fields. So, for people looking to be financially stable, STEM should definitely be a crowd puller yet so many women seem to stay away from STEM. Why is this so?

A Look at the Statistics

  • After Marie Curie, only 17 women have been awarded the Nobel Prize for contributions to physics, chemistry and medicine.
  • Women make up only 28% of the people involved in research studies.
  • Only 18% of girls globally take up STEM subjects for tertiary education. Within this too, girls prefer life sciences to subjects like mechanical or electrical engineering.
  • Women employment in the field of artificial intelligence stands at 22%.
  • When it comes to engineering, just 28% of the employees are women.

The Indian Scenario

The good news is that India performs significantly better than most of the developed countries including the U.S and the U.K when it comes to the percentage of female graduates in STEM. According to data from the World Bank, this number stands at 42.7%. However, what is worrying is that most of these women graduates do not pursue careers in STEM – this number stands at just 29%. And what is even more concerning is that at the C-suite level, the percentage of women drops to a dismal 3%.

  • In India, unlike in other countries, more women do take up STEM subjects for study but only 14% of them become scientists, engineers and technologists in various research organizations and universities.
  • Similarly, school education in STEM has many women teaching the subjects but when it comes to further education, the number of women reduces – IIT Bombay has 25 women professors out of a total of 143 and IIT Madras has 31 women professors out of a total of 304.
  • None of the IITs have ever had a woman as a director.

Reasons Behind the STEM Gap

Perceptions in the society about what girls are suited for, deep rooted beliefs and discrimination against women, all play a crucial role in the STEM gap. These not only limit the opportunities that are available to women but also repress women and stop them from achieving what they are capable of.

The Suppression Starts Early

  • While there is no solid evidence for this, it is believed that teachers as well as parents consider boys to be better at math and science.
  • Studies, on the other hand, show that there is no in-born difference in a girl’s and boy’s aptitude to math thus leading us to conclude that it is just a societal belief that has been passed down through the years.
  • That girls do not take up STEM subjects has nothing to do with their ability – it is more a matter of discrimination against girls.
  • Added to this, girls are often more critical of their own performance while boys are not as self-critical.

Women Are Not Given Credit

  • The few women who do take up research in STEM fields are often not given credit for the work they do or are given less credit compared to men.
  • Science text books rarely mention women for their achievements or findings.
  • What this unconsciously does is it gives the children who are reading the text books an idea that men are better suited for STEM.
  • As a result, small girls give up on STEM even before they give it a try.

Lack of Role Models

  • Seeing a woman at the helm is definitely an inspiration for other women.
  • It shows them what women are capable of and instills a belief that they too can do it.
  • Unfortunately, with the absence of women role models in the STEM field, it gives the impression that STEM is male territory. This in itself is enough to make many women stay away.
  • One particular study actually gave its inference that having more women role models itself could be one of the solutions to bridging the STEM gap.

A Patriarchal Discipline

  • Since more men work in STEM, the work place is male-dominated and does not promote an inclusive culture.
  • They are like that simply because they don’t have a female viewpoint and as a result, they don’t look at the other side of the coin at all.
  • An inflexible atmosphere automatically keeps women away and it turns into a vicious cycle.

Possible Solutions

  • It is up to parents and teachers to encourage girls in STEM. Girls do not lack in capability and need to be given opportunities to prove themselves.
  • Awareness programs for parents and teachers can go a long way towards changing mindset.
  • Girls should be encouraged to move out of their comfort zone and embrace challenges.
  • Having mentors for girls will give them confidence and instill self-belief.
  • We need to encourage women to take up STEM jobs after graduation. Having programs on job opportunities available will let women know all the choices available.
  • Once women take up jobs in STEM fields, it is important to retain them by promoting an inclusive culture which makes them feel comfortable.
  • Any kind of sexual harassment needs to be dealt with strictly and organizations should come up with plans and policies that support women.
  • People in leadership roles should promote a diverse environment that makes women feel respected.
  • Women should be given both professional and leadership training to achieve their potential in STEM fields.

With Increased Women Participation, Everyone Benefits

  • Encouraging women in STEM is not for women’s well-being and empowerment alone.
  • While it does address the issues of gender pay gap and financial independence, there is also a bigger picture to look at.
  • Science itself will benefit from women’s participation.
  • Women bring skill differentiation to the work place.
  • This leads to the organization having a competitive edge over other organizations that are not inclusive.
  • This has been proved by numerous studies which show inclusive organizations to be more profitable than others.
  • Applying the same logic to a bigger picture, it invariably follows that countries and ultimately humanity itself will benefit from the diverse and unique perspectives that women bring to any scenario.