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Women in STEM: Understanding STEM Women’s Experiences and Career

Women in STEM Share Their Workplace Experiences

India can become a STEM powerhouse by retaining its female STEM graduates in the workforce. Technology’s widespread use in daily life has made STEM education essential for sustainable growth and social well-being. Women and girls must have equal access and participation in STEM to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Progress towards achieving equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all, as well as achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls in STEM sectors, has been sluggish.

Women are often underrepresented in STEM fields worldwide. A 2020 report from the World Bank highlighted that women have higher graduation rates than men but are less inclined to pursue STEM fields like engineering, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and physics. Women in STEM fields are more prone to avoid pursuing STEM careers and leave them sooner than their male counterparts. Women in STEM often publish fewer papers and are more likely to receive lower salaries. In the Global Gender Gap Report (2023), women comprised 29.2 percent of the STEM workforce in 146 nations. It is despite women accounting for 49.3 percent of total employment in non-STEM occupations.

Women in STEM fields are less likely to pursue STEM careers and tend to leave these careers earlier than their male counterparts.

A global paradox is the widening gender gap in STEM fields as country income and gender equality increase, as reported by the World Bank. In low-income countries, women are 7 percent less likely than men to enroll in tertiary engineering, manufacturing, and construction programs. This gap widens to 15 and 17 percentage points in upper-middle-income and high-income countries. Myanmar, Azerbaijan, Thailand, and Georgia stand out for having many female researchers.

India boasts the highest number of STEM graduates globally. The number of women opting for STEM courses has risen despite the country’s lower female participation in the STEM workforce. Many women leave STEM education when transitioning to careers.

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Based on the All India Survey on Higher Education conducted by the Ministry of Education, the percentage of female graduates increased from 38.4% in 2014-15 to 42.6% in 2021-22. India boasts the highest number of female STEM graduates globally, representing a significant and underutilized human capital pool.

Compared to other countries, more women choose to pursue STEM education. According to World Bank data, India had a higher percentage of female STEM graduates in 2018 compared to the US, Australia, and Germany.

Supportive Policies for Women in STEM

Gender inequality in STEM has been discussed in various intergovernmental forums, beginning with the Beijing Declaration by the United Nations. There is a continuous worry among policymakers in India about the lack of women and girls in STEM fields. National assessments were conducted to pinpoint the causes of lower female participation and implement necessary measures. According to a recent government assessment, India has 18.6% of women researchers in R&D activities. The lower participation is attributed to familial responsibilities that women face, resulting in career breaks and prolonged absence from work.

Gender inequality in STEM has been discussed in various intergovernmental forums, beginning with the Beijing Declaration by the United Nations.

Various policies aim to tackle these problems. The STI Policy 2013 aims to achieve gender equality in STI activities. The Department of Science and Technology offers various programs under the ‘Women in Science and Engineering-KIRAN (WISE-KIRAN)’ scheme. These include the ‘Women Scientist Scheme’ to support women returning to work after career breaks and the ‘Consolidation of University Research through Innovation and Excellence in Women Universities (CURIE)’ program for enhancing infrastructure and research facilities for women.

The GATI program aims to evaluate gender inequality and transition institutions to gender-sensitive approaches. The SERB-POWER initiative seeks to increase the involvement of women scientists in research by providing grants and fellowships. The Vigyan Jyoti program promotes STEM education for high school girls in rural areas.

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Indian Institutes of Technology have increased female enrollment by adding more seats recently. The AICTE has been operating two programs, the Pragati Scholarship and the TechSaksham Programme, to improve women’s job prospects.

Several programs have successfully increased the number of women in STEM education but have yet to tackle the challenges they encounter in the workforce effectively.

Tackling the gender gap in the STEM workforce

Even though there are many female STEM graduates, women make up less than one-third of the STEM workforce in India, at 27 percent, based on World Bank data. This issue of women being underrepresented in STEM careers, known as the “leaky pipeline,” highlights how women often do not pursue or drop out of these fields despite their ability to succeed.

Women may make individual choices due to domestic and care burdens, but they also encounter biases, stereotypes, and systemic barriers at home and workplaces. These biases impact STEM products and innovations, as extensively documented.

Even though there are many female STEM graduates, women make up less than one-third of the STEM workforce in India, at 27 percent, based on World Bank data.

Raising awareness about cultural biases and implementing policy interventions is essential to encourage more women to join and stay in the field. Workplaces should support women by offering training, mentoring, and investing in care infrastructure, leave-related policies, and scholarships and educational programs.

New alliances and initiatives have been recently launched to boost the participation of women in STEM education and the workforce in India. India is on its way to becoming a global leader in STEM. All that is required is to ensure that female STEM graduates are retained in the workforce.

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