Bridging The Gender Gap In STEM

In many developing nations there are still huge social challenges when it comes to getting girls into school in the first place. Add to that inherent bias and conditioning, and the STEM gender challenge becomes even more entrenched.

The role of women everywhere is evolving. Women are breaking barriers in almost every field, be it the workplace, politics, education, healthcare, entertainment, and more. I remember coming across a news article earlier this year about the India Space Research Organization’s women scientists celebrating the successful Mangalyaan launch. For India and across the world, these women are role models and inspirations for a new generation of girls who aspire to STEM careers. However, we still have a long way to go when it comes to STEM education for girls.

Consider the facts - only 17 women have won the Nobel Prize for their work in physics, chemistry or medicine, while 572 men have received the award. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that only 28 percent of all researchers in the world are female.

In many developing nations there are still huge social challenges when it comes to getting girls into school in the first place. Add to that inherent bias and conditioning, and the STEM gender challenge becomes even more entrenched. For example, did you know that a UNESCO review found that more than 50 percent of the illustrations in math and science textbooks depicted only male characters, while only 6 percent showed female ones?

There is also the concern around women in STEM careers dropping out. According to a recent study, 45 percent of women working in STEM jobs were dissatisfied with their career choice, 39 percent felt overwhelmed by the long working hours, 36 percent pointed out the male-dominated office environment, while almost 36 percent felt that society and media did not encourage women to join STEM fields. Nearly a quarter of women felt that they were less likely to be paid as much as men, regardless of their performance.

The good news is that educators and organizations like UNESCO are working actively to close the gender gap in STEM. Policy measures in India like the Right to Education Act, Companies Act and even the mid-day meal programs are bringing more children into schools. Literacy rates in India are going up, even among women – up to 85 percent in 2011, compared to only 60 percent in 1990.

Corporations and private organizations are making an impact as well. They are investing in science and computer labs at schools and improving general conditions such as building infrastructure, clean toilets, and drinking water, to bring girls back into schools. STEM is vitally important to increasing the well-being of all people.  At Qualcomm we have been actively pursuing technologies that transform the global economy and enrich our lives. Qualcomm, in association with United Way of Hyderabad and Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, launched a flagship project called Qualcomm® Aqriti™ that promotes STEM education among underprivileged girls. The program aims to improve enrolment of girls in schools, improve academic performance in STEM subjects at the school level, and reduce drop-out rates for female students at secondary school levels.  Through this collaboration, Qualcomm will contribute to building facilities that enable a quality education for girls in schools.  

When it comes to women who are already in STEM careers, organizations will need to take a fresh look at their policies in order to retain and motivate them to grow their careers.  Unfortunately, even now, there are very few role models of women in STEM. It is crucial to enable collaboration, communication and mentorship between women employees, not just within the organization but also within the large framework of the industry.

The inclusion of women in STEM education and careers is today a top priority not just for technology companies but also for governments, development organizations and even the United Nations (UN). In fact, inclusive education is one of the elements that underpins the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Given the momentum around this subject over the last few years, I am confident we will be able to eliminate the gender gap in STEM soon.

Here’s to all the budding women scientists, mathematicians and researchers… together let’s go forward and conquer the world of STEM.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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