Towards a better world for women in STEM

In the past years, there has been a relentless push by the Government to improve the participation and leadership of women in STEM. Now, we need to come together and use a “whole-of-society” approach

Published: 28th December 2022 08:34 PM  |   Last Updated: 02nd January 2023 07:34 PM   |  A+A-


Image used for representational purposes only. (Photo | Pexels)

Gender equality is the fifth goal among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations. The Constitution of India also recognizes the principle of gender equality in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, and the Directive Principles of State Policy. These ideals have resulted in positive health indicators for women in our country.Making such milestones consistent and intersectional is possible through increased representation of women in leadership roles, ensuring inclusive growth.

India produces the highest number of graduates in Health & STEM but their education does not translate into employability. The All-India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2018-19 by Ministry of Education revealed that women comprise almost 43%  of the total STEM enrollments in the country. However, only 3% of women enroll in Ph.D in science and 6% opt for a Ph.D in Engineering and Technology. Furthermore, their share in STEM jobs in India is just 14%. This is in line with NASSCOM findings earlier this year, which showed that there is just a 36% female workforce in the Indian tech ecosystem i.e., 1.8 million women.

Women in STEM have traditionally had the odds stacked against them in the pursuit of knowledge.Gendered worldviews have meant that certain disciplines that require “rationality” such as science and medicine have been out of reach for many women.

Several initiatives have been launched to change the status quo. In recent years, a matrix of forward-thinking policies and interventions aimed at empowering more women to realize their aspirations in STEM has been implemented.For example, with an intent to increase participation of women scientists in biotechnology research, the Departemnt of Biotechnology (DBT), Minsitry of Science & Technology, Government of India  launched a Biotechnology Career Advancement and Re-orientation Programme (BioCARE) in 2011. This initiative aims to build capacities for women scientists after a career break to help them undertake independent R&D projects.  In addition to this, to bolster women entrepreneurship as a sector, Biotechnology Industry Research Assistant Council (BIRAC), an industry-academia interface set up by DBT, has partnered with the stakeholders  to nurture start-ups by mentoring, networking, educating, incubating, and funding. Their common objective is to strengthen the biotech entrepreneurial start-up ecosystem including healthcare and medical technology.The Department of Science &Technology, Government of India, has also implemented the ‘Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN)’ Scheme since 2014.

Overall, the aim is to provide professional opportunities to women scientists and technologists and ensure gender parity in the Science and Technology sector by on-boarding greater numbers of women for Research andDevelopment through a variety of programmes. For instance, the ‘Women Scientist Scheme’ offers opportunities for professional progress to women scientists and technologists who have had to take a career break. There is also the Vigyan Jyoti programme, launched in December 2019,which seeks to sharpen young girls’ interest in science and move toward careers in the discipline.

To complement these efforts, we also need a “whole-of-society” approach to ensure true equity. Communities, organizations, government offices and corporate house must be encouraged to sensitize all members and employees and reassess their own biases, if any. Every company, system and organization will benefit from a gender roadmap that can also feed into the narrative of how a more productive workspace can be a function of how inclusive it is in terms of gender.We have the political will, and we have the policies; all we need is concerted effort to ensure such policies are implemented to their fullest potential.

The author is Scientist ‘H’, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India and Managing Director (MD), Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a PSU of DBT.


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