Women in STEM: Why are they undervalued despite their outstanding performance?
Plenty of women are choosing to study science and technology, but only a fraction of them are in long careers in these fields, and very few are making it to the top. 35% of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students in higher education globally are women.
While it is encouraging to have more women studying STEM, it is an alarm bell for us. Statistics around the world show that there is a gender gap in the jobs and research in STEM. The phenomena has come to be known as the ‘leaky pipeline’ of talent lost along the way.
Discriminations faced by women
Too many girls are held back from pursuing their choice of career by the perpetual discrimination, biases and expectations. While women make up almost half of researchers in Central Asia and 30% in North America and parts of Africa. The average figure drops to less than 18% in most parts of South and West Asia . The discriminations against women in STEM are deep rooted and put a detrimental brake on the progress towards gender equality.
Lack of role models for women in stem
Just 3% of students pursuing information and communication technology (ICT) courses across the globe are women and only 5% in mathematics and statistics courses . Most girls don’t even consider STEM as a career option because they don’t have any role models to emulate professionally. The lack of female participation in scientific studies means that a critical mass of candidates are not prepared to access leadership positions. This results in the exclusion of a female perspective in the field which propagates a lesser sense of belonging and less motivation in girls who wish to pursue STEM.
Interventions to help bring more Women in STEM
STEM clinics and camps are being set up in various parts of Africa for cultivating and strengthening STEM curricula, similar strategies can be adopted in other parts of the world. Digital tools and platforms can be used to attract girls to the STEM pipeline. Interactive methods such as online courses, virtual laboratories, digital libraries, etc. can be used to facilitate learning. Gender equality in the workplace is yet to be achieved in most parts of the world. Removing the hurdles that prevent women from pursuing jobs in science and technology sectors is a crucial step in changing the current scenario. Availability and accessibility of jobs would translate into increased participation and more girls would get motivated to pursue a career in STEM, thus completing the virtuous cycle. It is not just women’s responsibility to confront gender bias, interventions at institutional levels are needed to repair the leaks.