The Girls in Science Today, are the Women of Technology for a Better Tomorrow

“Women and girls belong in Science” – Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations

Globally, women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) roles account for only 35% of the labour force (Cracking the Code, UNESCO). Consequently, women hold fewer senior research positions in universities leading to lower publication rates, less visibility and reduced funding.

Bangladesh has seen a decline of 8% in the number of female graduates in STEM related majors from 28.56% in 2002 to 20.55% in 2018. In Sri Lanka, the narrative is a little more positive. The University Grants Commission (UGC) accounts women for 49% of undergraduates who enrol in STEM fields.  However, why do women not choose the world of work in STEM with a 92% employment rate?

The answers to this question lie in the gender biases and disparities that requires employers, parents and even women to overcome these biases and disparities regarding the STEM field being only for men.

A study done by Samina M Saifuddin, Assistant Professor of Management, Morgan State University in Baltimore, USA, on women’s role in STEM in Bangladesh, found that Bangladeshi women face institutional barriers when they want to pursue a career in STEM, such as, the lack of role models, gender biases in organizational structure, unequal growth opportunities, unequal pay for the same skill set as male counterparts, and the lack of a comfortable work environment due to gender biases against women.

The journey to overcome these biases and disparities for women in science, begins at school. A lack of mentors in primary and secondary education plays a pivotal role in the limited number of women in STEM-oriented careers. The school curriculum should undergo a complete metamorphosis to allow for girls to choose to pursue subjects related to science and technology, rather than home science in school – while the latter is a testament to everyday survival; STEM is the key to ensure a sustainable and efficient way of life. Therefore, extending the laboratory for girls to pursue the sciences is vital for the future of women, for the continuity of breakthrough research and good for everyone.

Once girls have concluded their primary education, move towards obtaining their degree and enter the workforce as women, they face institutional barriers, while employers face a “leaky pipeline” in talent when recruiting women in STEM. What can be done? In order to overcome the institutional barriers women, face in STEM related employment, it is crucial for employers to initiate dialogue with those in the company’s leadership, as leaders who understand the advantages of more women in science, will encourage others to bring in more women into their company. Having a gender balance causes ripple effects in science. Science is about creativity and diversity is key to creativity.

Employers could begin to fix the leaky pipeline by providing potential candidates a learning experience in the STEM field while working on the job, providing them with relevant certification that could lead to promotions in the future. Additionally, companies can set meaningful inclusion quotas to avoid gender discrimination – learning how to set effective gender quotas are a part of the UN Global Compact’s, Global Impact Initiative, Target Gender Equality (TGE). Women bear the responsibility to be homemakers, thereby causing a cultural barrier from having a fulfilling career in STEM, consequently, employers should design workplace policies that are flexible while increasing and retaining the participation of women in STEM in the long run.

Women in STEM bring in related life experiences to research, leading to results that benefit the entirety of humanity (La Trobe University). Therefore, diversity in STEM can bring about efficient and innovative solutions. Women in STEM are an untapped talent resource that, if utilised correctly, could lead to productive economies.

The COVID-19 pandemic as a backdrop has showcased pioneering women making cutting edge discoveries in scientific research in the race for an effective vaccine. Therefore, there will always be value and a need for women in science. After all, the girls in science today, are the women of technology for a better tomorrow.

Join us for the upcoming Network Sri Lanka webinar to learn more about the Women in STEM and Supply Chains: Reshaping the World of Work.