"Science is not a boy's game, it's not a girl's game. It's everyone's game. It's about where we are and where we're going. Space travel benefits us here on Earth. And we ain't stopped yet. There's more exploration to come." -- Nichelle Nichols, former NASA Ambassador and Star Trek actress.
While we can see the participation of women in all other fields of education, STEM seems to be the less chosen one. There are various reasons for this, including entrenched stereotypes and social biases, besides infrastructure policies and low-powered incentives. There isn’t a doubt that this area requires more attention and positive action. However, just “the talk” doesn’t help in bridging this gap. According to UNESCO, women account for less than 30 percent of researchers in science technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines across the world. In India, this figure amounts to just 14 percent.
UNESCO’s ground-breaking report “Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM”, states that only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women, and differences are observed within STEM disciplines. For example, only 3% of female students in higher education choose information and communication technologies (ICT) studies. This gender disparity is alarming, especially as STEM careers are often referred to as the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth, and sustainable development. UNESCO is giving special attention to this issue as part of its efforts to promote the empowerment of women and girls through education and as a response to its Member States’ decision on UNESCO’s role in encouraging girls and women to be leaders in STEM, including arts and design.
“Diversity is a prerequisite for innovation and the cornerstone of scientific, technological, and economic progress.”
Since most future jobs will be based on STEM education, it is essential that women today actively pursue education and career involved and based on STEM education. Despite various reasons that roots in societal norms, stereotypes, and gender bias; we as a community must take actions and ensure that girls get the right STEM education.
Various researches point towards the importance of gender diversity in STEM. They can be cultivated by encouraging and mentoring talent. Also, for mentoring women, efforts are more fruitful when they are led by women themselves. Female role models play a significant role in inspiring STEM professionals.
Research institutions, start-ups, and corporates have recognized the importance of bridging the gender gap to foster diversity in the workforce. Many have taken commendable steps to empower women with the right technical skills and provide them with career growth opportunities.
There are startups and big players in the industry working towards bridging the gender gap in STEM education. For instance, Robotix Learning Solutions and RoboKart provide robotics skilling for girls at the school level. In 2019, IBM launched a STEM for Girls programme in collaboration with State governments. It has since onboarded more than 69,000 girls. Likewise, Mastercard’s Girls4Tech programme is into its fifth year. Some tech corporates, like Google and Accenture, are also working to fix the gender gap in top management with mentorship programmes to help women reach the C-suite.
Besides start-ups and corporates, global initiatives offer a platform for women to showcase their work in STEM. Take the example of Women in Machine Learning and Data Science, which hosts talks by women and gender-minority individuals working in the space. The organization also hosts workshops, hackathons, and networking events. Similarly, PyLadies is another international community that provides a support network for women Python coders and connects them to the larger Python community.
In the video below watch out the students and determined facilitators of the IBM STEM for Girls program that is helping prepare girls to join their nation's modern workforce.
But why there’s so much effort in making sure that girls are a part of STEM culture?
The primary reason remains to ensure that women equally participate in all fields of career. The push is necessary to break down the false norms and change the perspective of the society of looking at women as they aren’t fit to be a part of science-related fields.
Other important reasons are the benefits we reap of a diverse workforce.
For instance, Forbes has found that close to 85% of large global enterprises believe that workforce diversity is critical in driving innovation and that teams with equal numbers of men and women generate on average 41% more revenue for their employer.
According to the survey, a diverse and inclusive workforce is necessary to drive innovation and promote creativity—85% of respondents agreed (48% strongly so) that diversity is crucial to gaining the perspectives and ideas that foster innovation. As importantly, more than three quarters indicated that their companies will put more focus over the next three years to leverage diversity for their business goals, including innovation.
“Companies have realized that diversity and inclusion are no longer separate from other parts of the business,” said Stuart Feil, editorial director of Forbes Insights. “Organizations in the survey understand that different experiences and different perspectives build the foundation necessary to compete on a global scale.”
While various surveys point towards the importance of inclusivity of women for innovation; we are still trapped in age-old stereotypes of directing our girls to no pursue the men dominated industry. With initiative and efforts for gender diversity in STEM education, We do have a ray of sunshine with expectations to see the change and many young girls take up important job roles contributing to a brighter and diverse future!
For further readings, I highly recommend you to read Gender equality in STEM is possible. These countries prove it.
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