Sociological Analysis on the reasons behind the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields


Areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM have pre-dominantly remained as choices for the males of the society and has seen much lower participation of women in the field. It is amply evident throughout the course of history where the society has systematically discriminated against girls and women from pursuing careers in the STEM field. In other cases, they have been navigated away from science and technology throughout the duration of their education, restricting them from not being able to take up these subjects and transform them into careers as adults. The gender gap in terms of pay, growth, and opportunities is high in professional fields like computer science, engineering, and mathematics, promoting and widening the gender pay gap in STEM. This paper aims to analyse the various sociological aspects which have consistently led to an increase in this gap between men and women, to try and provide solutions that can help bridge this divide which has been a barrier to achieving the potential that a diverse society of STEM researchers, academicians, scientists, data analysts can bring to humanity.

The Underrepresentation

We all know about Marie Curie, the first women to win a Nobel Prize in Physics. To date, there are only 57 women who have won the Nobel Prize since its genesis in 1901. Out of the 57, only 23 have won it in Medicine, Physiology, Physics and Chemistry. This number clearly outlines meagre representation in the whole STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) system across the world.

For decades, governments, international organizations, NGO’s, and private players have made significant and continuous efforts to increase the representation of women in the field of STEM. Unfortunately, they have been unable to come up with results. This Gordian knot with a patriarchal society on one side and the concept of a masculine culture in the STEM field on the other needs immediate address at two levels – at the foundational level, which is the society that demands policy changes and secondly at the institutional level, which needs swift address.

It is false and preposterous to state that women are not capable enough. Overall, research has indicated various intrinsic and extrinsic factors that have curbed women from moving forward in the STEM system. The factors include structural and interpersonal interactions that restrict growth. These factors range from internal to external opportunities, growth, job outlook, rewards, recognition and gender bias.  

In a 2018 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine, women experience a high level of sexual exploitation or assault at workplaces. From gender harassment to objectification, fear and the feeling of hostility at the workplace to being degraded to second-class status, the atrocities are diabolical and despicable in nature. The toll on mental and physical health is consequential. The report also states that the mounting result of sexual harassment in engineering, science and medicine has led to a significant impact on research output and growth among women scholars and scientists.  

According to the Pew Research Centre, women have categorized STEM workplaces as hostile. The confrontation environment as compared to their male colleagues. Discrimination based on gender is quite recurring and restraining. The insensitivity to recognize the women force in STEM restricts the women from growing and better opportunities in research and innovation. Safety at the workplace remains a big concern for women – thus the low numbers.

Various studies done across the world have reported that technology and science are male domains or territories, and researchers are predominantly males. The Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) has reported the continuous perseverance of gendered paths in career choices. According to it, men are underrepresented in education, health and welfare, and women are underrepresented in STEM. 

The world is transforming swiftly, digitally. The opportunities in the field of STEM are immense and ever-growing. The lackadaisical attitude to shift from a patriarchal damaged workplace environment to an egalitarian surrounding with opportunities to grow is dreadful and needs a paradigm shift. The structural change in the talent pipeline for STEM opportunities shall increase women representation and ensure their valuable contribution. 

A study by the National Academies Press expresses, even though efforts are being made to deepen and expand the scope of opportunities for women in STEM, the concept of ‘Intersectionality’ has been ignored by policymakers. Intersectionality can be defined as “the process through which multiple social identities converge and ultimately shape the individual and group experiences.” The report states, “many employers, including those at educational institutions, have adopted programs and the policies aimed at improving equity and diversity in STEMM without considering the complex, cumulative ways in which multiple intersecting identities influence outcomes of the interventions.”

India: A Paradox

According to the United Nations (UN), women in India constitute about 14% of 280,000 scientists, engineers and technologists in research development institutions. With a population of 1.3 billion people and a rapidly growing digital economy, India needs to encash the growing digital base for generating employment and promoting innovation. To do so, it needs to turn inwards to plug the divide.

Almost 40% of Indians who graduate in the areas of STEM are women. While there has been an increase in girl enrolment for higher education in India, it is not proportionate to the women entering the workforce. One of the significant reasons and highly ignored is the gender pay gap. Despite being in equal positions, women get paid less than men for their research and discovery – a significant hindrance in growth.

India is an emerging super-power that has given the world great women leaders across domains not only has numbers in favour but the growth opportunities as a growing and dynamic economy to present itself as an epitome of an equal society barring culture, religion, ethnicity, gender or language. India needs to introspect and change from within as there is not just one path. To be AatmaNirbharBharat, the women need to be emancipated from the shackles of the patriarchal ancient minds. An environment full of opportunities, freedom, and social security shall promote gender equality. It is a must to incentivize institutions to improving infrastructure and bridging the imbalance to a state of equilibrium. Only then, women shall successfully be able to chase and achieve their goals and contribute to the development of science and the nation.



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