But, women continue to constitute only a small share of the workforce, especially in STEM-related fields. Fanny von Heland, Innovation and Science Counsellor at Embassy of Sweden and head of the Office of Science and Innovation, tells
Education Times the reasons that drag women behind in the career race and what the future holds.
Challenges at every step
“Stereotypical mindset associates science and technology with men more than with women; they often hold negative opinions of women in ‘masculine’ positions like computer scientists and computer engineers. Moreover, teachers and parents often underestimate girls’ math abilities already in preschool, limiting their self-confidence and assessment of future employment opportunities,” Heland says.
Even as a woman makes her career in STEM, sustaining oneself is another mammoth task. “It is also a well-known fact that women in science and technology are paid less for their work and often experience huge difficulties to advance their careers. Young women with an interest in science and technology therefore have few incentives to pursue a career in STEM. Because fewer women work in STEM, inflexible, exclusionary, male-dominated cultures prevail. In the end, girls and young women end up with very few role models to stimulate an interest in STEM.”
Achieving SDGs require women participation
Since people working in STEM will also be trusted to design and develop many of the solutions needed to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, women and girls must be given equal opportunities to influence our present and future societies.
“Over the coming decade, artificial intelligence (AI) will have a profound impact on our societies. The problem is that AI is currently a very male-dominated sector. For example, algorithms written by men often end up skewed to favour men because of unconscious biases and the perspectives brought into the development process by coders. Equal representation in STEM is essential to design inclusive societies which can meet the needs of all citizens,” Heland says.
Underrepresentation may lead to displacement
The demand for a technologically competent workforce is on the rise in India, as well as all over the world. Massive investments in technology, coupled with India’s huge internet market of 560 million connected consumers, are underway transforming the country into a digitally empowered knowledge economy.
A research by the Progressive Policy Institute India shows that India is likely to overtake the US as the world’s largest developer population centre by 2024. “The under-representation of women in STEM, therefore, puts women as a group at the high risk of being displaced by technology,” cautions Heland
NEP 2020 can be a new hope
The Indian government recently released the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 to replace the old education policy, which was framed in 1986. Heland says that the new policy is promising and innovative as coding will become part of the curriculum from grade 6 onwards.
Furthermore, the new draft Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) 2020 stresses the importance of inclusiveness. With an overarching focus on equality, it mandates that there are at least 30% women in all decision-making bodies, including in scientific selection and evaluation committees.
“It means that girls from an early age will be exposed to technology and given increased opportunities to develop curiosity in technology. In the same way, coding as part of the curriculum could help combat gender stereotypes among boys,” she adds.