When Madame Marie Curie won her second Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911, she was the only person to win it in two scientific fields. Her first was in Physics in 1903. Over a Century and countless ground-breaking innovations later, the persisting gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) across the world is indeed a matter of concern.
Though technology and engineering are amongst the most sought-after skills in the world, women remain under-represented in STEM as opposed to life sciences and other fields of subjects. Numerous studies suggest women account for less than a third (approx. 30%) of those employed in STEM-related jobs across the world. It is also found that women in STEM fields publish less research papers, are paid less and do not advance as much as male counterparts in their careers. In India, only 30% of women are engineering students and around 30% have jobs in this field.
We must go beyond these numbers and identify the factors that stop women from pursuing a high rewarding career in science & technology. So, what exactly leads to this gender gap? We need to realise that not all girls and women have access to education, particularly those from rural regions. Secondly, the women who do join careers in STEM tend to face discrimination in male-dominated workplaces. While the more popular biases such as disparity in pay does exist, there are several invisible biases as well.
For instance, NASA’s first all-female spacewalk scheduled to happen in March 2019 was cancelled citing lack of spacesuits to fit the women crew! The spacesuits have traditionally been designed for the standard male default. The result? One of the women crew lost the opportunity and was replaced by a man. This is just one of the instances that showcases common but little-discussed experiences of women in STEM.
Now, how do we bridge this gap? It is imperative that we understand the need to clip this divide at a very nascent stage. Several initiatives like SAP in India’s Code Unnati is bridging this gap between young women and technology by offering a host of courses focused on IT skills development. SAP has also partnered with the Indian government (NITI Aayog) to promote STEM education among secondary school children, especially girls, across India. The aim of these initiatives is to inspire girls from the weaker socioeconomic backgrounds to take up careers in STEM by building skill sets for the Internet of Things, data visualisation and key programming languages including AI, Python, C/C++ Java Script.
While a lot of money and effort is going into getting girls and women into STEM, we also need to retain these talents by creating more inclusive workspace where everyone gets the same opportunities, same treatment and same appreciation irrespective of their gender. SAP is the first multinational technology company to be awarded with the global gender equality certification from the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) organization. We have also been ranked amongst the Top 25 Best Workplaces for Women in India. I am fortunate to be a part of a gender-equal organisation where women are nourished, supported and empowered to deliver their best each day, every day.