Leveling the playing field to attract more women into STEM — People Matters

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field was largely dominated by men until a few decades ago, but while the situation is improving for women, their percentage is still lower to what we want.

There are several causes and challenges to this, says Deepa Ganapathy, vice president, Quess IT Staffing.

These include the effect of patriarchy, with a few years ago fewer women earning tech degrees, which in turn led to fewer women in tech fields, the scarcity models, with the starkest example of the original woman in tech, Ada Lovelace, who wrote the world’s first complex computer program in 1843, being “unfortunately erased from history”, and then the lack of lucrative long-term career opportunities, she says.

Second, as women take on the responsibility of running the household, few jobs offer flexibility in hours, location, etc., forcing many talented, young, able women to choose not to. not having a career, and several stages of the leaky pipeline,” including relocation due to marriage, maternity breaks, lack of family support, family responsibilities, adds Ganapathy.

Women industry leaders believe that overcoming these challenges and improving the representation of women in STEM will require a concerted effort by employers, educational institutions, policy makers and society as a whole to create an enabling environment. genuinely welcoming and empowering for women in the field as well as the workplace.

“One of the key variables to address are gender stereotypes imposed from an early age, which can lead to fewer women applying for STEM jobs. To ensure the success of women in science and technology, an ecosystem needs to be developed from scratch that fosters a culture of gender neutrality and a shift in mindset.

“Additionally, working to create an inclusive and equitable environment that encourages the participation of women in the STEM workforce, promoting equal pay for equal work will also play a key role in achieving this change,” said Vani Manja, managing director of the research-based pharmaceutical industry. Boehringer Ingelheim India.

Shilpa Sinha Harsh, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Communications, CSR and D&I, at Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS), says one of the most common challenges women in STEM careers face is unconscious bias. .

“To limit these challenges, several companies are taking various steps and developing policies that empower women in STEM careers. At HGS, we have undertaken multiple initiatives to address the biases that persist with the female workforce. plus flexible working arrangements, maternity benefits, childcare arrangements policy, we also run awareness campaigns to instill the importance of an inclusive workplace and focus on various biases inherent things we have against women and the different ways to mitigate them,” she adds.

Necessary measures to facilitate the work of women and the possibilities of reintegration

The pandemic has affected women disproportionately as it has upended their work-life balance, as most of the burden of managing full-time work alongside additional care responsibilities fell on them when offices and schools were closing.

This has had a negative impact on women in terms of career advancement, pay scale, mental health, morale and well-being,

“In a difficult time like this, the importance of providing employees with a conducive work environment is of paramount importance. Organizations that adapted to these changes and focused on providing social and professional opportunities experienced decreased attrition, higher productivity, and higher engagement,” Manja says.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), there will be 13 million fewer women at work in 2021 compared to 2019, while male employment will have returned to its 2019 level.

“This reinforces the need for policies in place that help employees balance their personal and professional priorities, for example, flexible working hours, remote work options, access to medical care, child care allowances of children. Ultimately, the focus should be on developing an ecosystem that holistically facilitates women’s work,” says Manja.

In the long term, labor policies should also encourage the important role of fathers in parenthood, which would help counter some of the social stereotypes and expectations that are largely placed on working fathers.

“For example, many Scandinavian countries like Finland and Norway offer generous and equal childcare leave for fathers and mothers. Norway, for example, offers both parents 46 weeks of fully paid leave and 56 weeks at 80% of their salary. Such policies greatly encourage equality in childcare efforts, by not placing the responsibility solely on women,” she adds.

Women who return to work often struggle to reintegrate effectively for a combination of reasons including loss of trust, family and societal expectations with balancing work and home, among others.

For this, Manja suggests that the reintegration of women into the labor market can be greatly facilitated by employers by creating a welcoming and supportive environment.

“Examples of actions include designing a workspace and environment that meets the needs of new mothers, providing development and training programs that support career advancement, implementing mentoring and sponsorship, which together would help women re-enter the workforce with confidence and confidence, and move further in their career paths,” she adds.

“According to a report by the Indian Women Network, almost 91% of employed women in India who take a break after giving birth want to return to work. However, the number of women returning to the workforce now stands at 34% and this number is significantly lower than the higher levels. Clearly, there is work to be done to help new mothers re-enter the workforce,” says Ganapathy.

However, she says, there is good news as the organizations are leading a diverse hiring mandate by providing provisions such as an in-house crèche providing support for young mothers to return to work. A career boost program has been introduced which encourages women to continue their careers after a break, while work-from-home options, flexible working hours and half-day pay, among others, encourage more women to resume their careers.

Harsh says their organization has partnered with NASSCOM FutureSkills to design a skills program dedicated to educating women in the fields of AI, data analytics, and data science, among others, and inspire more women to monetize opportunities in the field. “We also have Aspire, a program designed for mid-level female employees with the goal of developing a pipeline of future high-potential female leaders. It aims to elevate the level of aspiration of our female leaders and helps them review their personal context, build their confidence and overcome inhibitions created by social conditioning,” she notes.

Changing roles of women in STEM

Today, India has a pool of remarkable talented women in STEM who have achieved tremendous success in their respective fields. Many women are decisively breaking the glass ceiling and challenging traditional gender biases, in STEM as well as other fields, in the public and private sectors.

“For example, healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry have an increasing representation of women in leadership roles; in the public sector, major programs of the Indian Space Research Organization have several women in senior positions. These examples are strong indicators of how women are excelling in roles that go beyond traditional fields like HR and teaching,” says Manja.

Roles in STEM particularly promising for women

Industry leaders say there are many opportunities for women in the STEM industry today.

“There is a significant increase in demand for female candidates in the product, service, e-commerce, BFSI, consulting, telecommunications, manufacturing and retail sectors. Disruptive technologies – cloud computing to AI, ML, IOT, 3D printing, blockchain, business analyst, web designers, cloud network architect, blockchain engineer, IoT solution architect, AI engineer, data science analyst, cyber security analysts are the most wanted,” says Ganapathy.

According to Quess data, female participation is higher in technology roles such as business analytics (41%), RPA (40%), ERP (40%) and UI/UX development (38 %). “This can be attributed to the fact that now several organizations are actively focusing and prioritizing their diversity equity and inclusion programs to support women in the tech workforce,” she adds.

“Technical disciplines such as medicine, engineering, technology, research and development offer promising career opportunities for women. In the pharmaceutical industry in particular, there is an urgent need for talent in all fields, thus opening up positions for women in research and development, manufacturing, marketing and sales, as well as other support functions. such as regulatory affairs and compliance. Additionally, after the onset of the pandemic, roles such as sales reps – which were traditionally in the field with higher male representation – have also become entirely virtual, providing a promising opportunity for women to join the workforce. adds Manja.

She notes, however, that although there are a number of exciting opportunities and roles in all fields of science, the representation of women in these roles remains low.

“While there are a notable number of female candidates for entry-level and even leadership positions in STEM-related professions, their numbers tend to decrease as we move up the hierarchy of roles. The relative lack of female candidates for C-level positions is a problem that needs to be addressed by industries. Organizations must adopt strategies to attract, retain and develop female talent to harness their inherent abilities.

“Diversity and inclusion should not just remain a buzzword, but a serious business priority,” she adds.

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