Our Daughters In STEM

Gender gap starts young.  38% of girls (aged 12-19 years) surveyed believed they would be less likely than boys to pursue STEM

A few days ago, India woke up to a doodle by Google of a woman. She wore a traditional sari and held a degree in one hand. She wore a stethoscope around her neck. Her name was Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi, India’s first female doctor. While she died young at the age of 21, she made a mark in history. She was an icon of rebellion against gender disparity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. It is for this reason that she is still remembered and revered.

Many scholars claim that a gender gap in STEM fields has always existed. The previous vast difference has been made substantially smaller by the birth of feminism. (Has Feminism Changed Science? Schiebinger, Londa (1999)). Nevertheless, the difference continues to be an existing quandary. India is no exception to this global issue and faces this predicament on varying scales.

The Problem

Gender disparity in STEM fields is no doubt a problem. While some data does exist to support this disparity, more is needed for further research. At the CISR’s 76th foundation day, President Kovind addressed the issue in his speech. He noted that of all those who joined an IIT, only about 10% were women. Those in Ph.D. and post-doctoral research are still fewer. Moreover, according to a recent Economic Forum Report, in India, only 14.3% of researchers in science are women. A survey titled ‘Girls In Tech: The Path Of Young Women To A Career In STEM’ revealed that the gender gap starts young.  38% of girls (aged 12-19 years) surveyed believed they would be less likely than boys to pursue STEM.

The Causes

Gender disparity between males and females in STEM fields exist for a variety of reasons. Here are a few:

  • Cultural and traditional stereotyping

Some use traditional beliefs to fuel the gender disparity in STEM fields. Recently, a Ph.D. scholar from IIT Delhi committed suicide. She was a promising student and had a successful academic life, making her case unique. They revealed that she allegedly took her life in the face of pressure from her husband and in-laws. They also pressured her for dowry. Furthermore, there were demands of her to give up on her research dreams. Her mourning father now wishes he had saved money for her dowry instead of education.

We still perceive women as the gender that ‘ought to stay home’. Regressive beliefs like this continue to discourage women from choosing and continuing in a STEM field.

  • The disparity in the workplace

A KGWI survey on women in STEM showed that 81% in India perceived a gender bias. According to the Hindustan Times, this bias was in performance evaluation. Furthermore, according to a survey (Revisiting Women in STEM), among dissatisfied women in STEM jobs, 36% blamed male dominance.

Additionally, 24% women felt they will be paid less than men. This means pay gaps contribute to the issue as well. There remains a wage gap between men and women in comparable scientific positions. Among more experienced scientists, the gender gap in salaries is greater than for recent graduates. All these factors contribute to discouraging women to join STEM fields.

  • Silencing the contribution of women and the lack of role models

Since early days, we have celebrated more male scientists than female scientists. It is true, female scientists were also less in number than males. However, the remarkable few female scientists are not talked about enough. Take the example of Katherine Johnson, an African-American female mathematician in NASA. We talk about and celebrate her rarely. In fact, it was only very recently that NASA named a building after her.

However, her calculations were critical to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program. The scarcity of an inspiration to look up to discourages women from pursuing STEM fields. The fear of under-appreciation adds to this too. According to to the Revisiting Women in STEM survey, 45% of those working in STEM faced job dissatisfaction. From this, almost 36% said it was because of the discouragement by media.

The Solutions

To curb this issue, we first need to accept that there is a gap. Data doesn’t lie. Let’s collect more data on young women in STEM fields.  Here are some solutions:

  • Challenging societal discrimination could be a good way to start. We need to reform the regressive mindset that prevents girls and young women from stepping out into STEM. More girls in STEM fields could lead to new perceptions and discoveries.
  • Providing young women with scholarship opportunities and internships will encourage them to step into STEM fields as well.
  • Professional could mentor and give supportive lectures. This could contribute to an increased participation from females in STEM fields.
  • We should celebrate and promote female scientists as role models. This will inspire more girls to pursue STEM fields.

It is also important to note that India has not remained silent on this matter. IITs have decided to introduce a supernumerary quota for women from 2018. This is to improve the gender composition of these institutions. They will give 14% additional seats in 2018, 17% in 2019, and 20% in 2020. Moreover, more than 40% science undergraduates in India are now women.

In conclusion, it is every Indian parent’s dream to make a doctor or engineer of their child. So, let’s encourage our daughters to follow this dream. Let’s help them chase their STEM dream!

About The Author

Layaal Ali is a Maldivian 12th grader currently residing in Bangalore, India. A feminist, she studies mathematics and science in hopes of making her mark as a female STEM scientist and she wishes to inspire other girls to do the same. She also enjoys challenging the patriarchy, philosophical conversations and good books.

Edited by: Dr. Shruti Kapoor