Gender Disparity in STEM Workforce

Development Education India Science Technology

Despite women accounting for 44 percent of postgraduates and Ph.D. holders in STEM fields, their representation in the Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) workforce remains low, at just 13.9 percent.

While the number of female students in STEM has risen, their participation in the workforce remains low shows a UNESCO report. Experts say that STEM is missing out on half of the world’s potential as many females do not prefer having a career in mathematics and science.    

In almost all education systems about 87 percent of boys responded significantly more often than girls that they would like to pursue a job that involves mathematics. A medical professional said that female doctors prefer specialties that have fewer working hours like dermatology, or plastics.

A report by the World Bank on ‘The Equality Equation: Advancing the Participation of Women and Girls in STEM’ noticed that as the country’s income rises, gaps between the likelihood of studying STEM between women and men widen.

Exploring global patterns the report stated that merely 18 percent of girls enrolled at the tertiary level are pursuing studies in the field of STEM, as compared to 35 percent of boys.

Women account for 33 percent of researchers, 22 percent of professionals working in artificial intelligence, and 28 percent of engineering students across the world. This is the case despite repeated global calls for increasing women representation in the STEM workforce.

The scenario, however, is better in India, with nearly 43 percent of STEM graduates being women, as opposed to other developed nations like the United States, Canada, and the UK, where there are fewer women – 34 percent, 31 percent, and 38 percent, respectively – studying STEM at the tertiary level. The findings highlight the persistent gender gap in the STEM industry, where women continue to face significant challenges in achieving equal representation and advancement opportunities.

Radha, a new mother, said that she is taking a break from work as a software engineer to concentrate on her child. “I will go back to work once my child is ready to go to school. I want to be there for my child, I have earned enough to live comfortably now and my husband is also a software engineer.”

The UNESCO study found that while the number of women earning advanced degrees in STEM fields has been steadily increasing, women are significantly underrepresented in the STEM workforce. This gap is particularly seen in fields such as engineering, computer science, and physics, where women make up less than 20 percent of the workforce.

The study’s authors suggest that a range of factors contribute to the persistent underrepresentation of women in the STEM workforce, including bias and discrimination, lack of role models and mentors, and societal stereotypes about gender and science.

A newly married 27-year-old said she felt like she needed to give up her job to do her duties as a wife and daughter-in-law now. Experts say, changing this mindset that a lady does not have to work after marriage and other such patriarchal ideals need to change.

The study emphasizes the need for continued efforts to address systemic barriers and promote diversity and inclusion in STEM fields.

The report by the World Bank to help close the gap, recommends addressing gender biases in learning materials, engaging parents, encouraging participation in STEM-related extracurricular activities, featuring female-role models, and promoting partnerships with the private sector bringing financial support to non-profit STEM initiatives.

Professor K. Jaishankar, Founding Principal Director of Justice Sciences said, “We need to continue to encourage and support women in pursuing STEM education and careers, but we also need to address the systemic barriers that limit their opportunities and impede their advancement.” He added that the patriarchal setup in India is the major reason for this gap.

The study’s findings have important implications for policymakers, educators, and employers in STEM fields and they need to do more, said a source.