Rooting women in S.T.E.M

Dearth of women in STEM is a global reality as well as a concern
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Representational Image Flickr [Creative Commons]

They are administrators and they are lawyers. They are parliamentarians and they are politicians. They are doctors and they are teachers. They are executives and they are jurists. They are artists and they are entrepreneurs, all in growing numbers.

They are trending on tiktok and in TED talks. They are meddling in media and plunging into sports. They are doing every bit and byte of the digital fantasies. Women can be found on every platform.

There is however, one good field which they have left scanty. It is called S.T.E.M. It is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Dearth of women in STEM is a global reality as well as a concern and is a topic that has been recently initiated in the public diaspora. Globally 61.1 % of undergraduate degrees in STEM are received by men and 38.9% by women.

This percentage keeps falling further as women move through the leaky pipeline of higher education. Women have to fulfil the duty of mighty and majestic motherhood besides doing the usual household chores. Her biological roles and domestic responsibilities also make her significant if she chooses to think positive.

Though her pace in career progress may get slower but she can always make a good comeback. All the necessary provisions are already in place to support her in compensating for the career loss at work place. But among other things, it also needs the support of man, back home. It is said, behind every great man is a woman.

Let the reverse also get to happen. Reciprocations are always beautiful. According to Samuel Johnson, Life cannot subsist in the society but by reciprocal concessions. Reciprocity is the basic currency of social life. Rooting women in STEM demands a lot of collective efforts.

STEM is a constantly mentally stimulating and mentally demanding field. It puts any person, man or woman, to N number of challenges. Every effort in research may not guarantee us an outcome.

Sometimes, the results are frustratingly elusive. It took Newton 20 years to develop the Calculus. Patience is built alongside the research. The archives reveal that Newton had a pet dog named Diamond.

One day Diamond knocked over the candle on the scientist’s desk and started a blaze that destroyed records worth many years of research. The revered scientist knew that it would be grossly unfair to blame the animal for the fire.

Viewing the destruction, Newton was quite patient and just said, “O Diamond, you little know the harm you have done to me”. While as we remember him for the gravitational laws and celebrate his scientific contributions but this incident alone is enough to catapult him to greatness.

Patience is not just the ability to tolerate, but the ability to keep a good attitude during the same. One has to keep trying to know what one is capable of. For some people, math and science come naturally and are easy. For other people, they may be difficult.

Most people find STEM harder than non-STEM, but for nerdy, geeky people, STEM is often easier. One cannot deny the inherent biological differences in the brains of boys and girls but those differences are certainly not enough to explain the under-representation of women in STEM careers.

We may also have to do a check with the social biases and stereotypes. A Stanford study has offered valuable insights in this regard, as to why there are so few women in STEM. Their research explains that a woman who gets a score of 600 on SAT Math Test, on average has a math ability of a man who gets 620-630 in the same test.

The findings are both illuminating and shocking. These reflect the consequences of the stereotype threat in the form of achievement gaps. The research therefore indicates that women may have diminished confidence in executing their abilities. Girls generally outperform boys in academics, but when it comes to taking up research in later part of career, their number is far less.

The number of women as faculty in academic and research institutes is not commensurate with the number of Ph.D holders in them. Only a small percentage of women who pursue science are able to convert it into a career.

As per the report of National Task Force for Women in Science, only 15 per cent of the Indian research and development workforce are women, while the global average is 30 per cent.

This imbalance is bigger in fields such as computer science and physics, and small in life sciences and medicine. Boys are considered to be better at science than girls. It is perhaps with the same notion that eleven per cent colleges in India which are exclusively for women offer courses in arts and commerce rather than science.

That women may have to lose a little length of their service to attend maternity and childcare issues, should not demotivate the panellists in appointing her to top academic/research positions. Confidence in the abilities of women is badly needed to be restored in the larger psyche of the people.

Einstein was pretty confident of women as he said ‘a woman who walks with the crowd generally goes no further than the crowd but a woman who walks alone is sure to find herself at a place no one has ever been.’

Walking alone is in analogy with doing different from what everyone else is doing. For women, being a police officer would be great but being a priest would be even greater and simply out of box.

Let us involve our minds more than the bodies and STEM offers many such opportunities. According to a recent study conducted by Brookings Institute at Washington DC, there is a high demand to fill jobs requiring skills in science, technology, engineering and math, and those positions also take longer than non-STEM jobs to fill. Let us fill in the blanks of STEM.

Dr. Qudsia Gani, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Govt College for Women Srinagar

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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