Gender gap in STEM: Its impact and holistic solution

Maibam Ricky Devi
The gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is a pervasive issue that has been a source of contention for many years and  requires a multifaceted approach to address. Despite the fact that women make up nearly one half of the population, they are still vastly under represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as well as in politics and corporate sectors. Shockingly, only 24% of STEM jobs are occupied by women, and the numbers are even more dismal when looking at the top tech firms in the world, where only 11% of executive positions are held by women.
The consequences of this gender gap in terms of the future of society could be quite far-reaching and may include lower economic growth and missed opportunities for technological innovation and development. If industries are dominated by male employees and female as well as transgender employees are not given the same opportunities to contribute to the field, then potential growth will be limited. This could have serious repercussions in the future, with a lack of progress in certain areas and an inability to capitalize on certain innovations.
Recently, I attended the NCMW-ATMS (National Centre for Mathematics Workshop-Advanced Training in Mathematics Schools) at IIT, Guwahati, where the female to male participant ratio was shockingly low at 5:25. This lack of female inclusion in higher educational courses is due to a lack of awareness and opportunities, as well as certain societal and cultural notions of gender roles that could further jeopardize the participation of younger girls in STEM and hinder them from emulating their female role models. Additionally, gender stereotyping may also play a role, with girls being restricted to only certain STEM tasks, often with a low-level of complexity, while boys may be able to explore more complex topics in a STEM field that are more valued. This could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby girls may become aware that the fields are dominated by males and have no interest in pursuing them.
The result of the gender gap in STEM has been incredibly detrimental, both in terms of political and economic outcomes. Women may lack independence in terms of financial contributions and may be required to rely on their spouses or family members. Furthermore, the country’s overall rate of economic growth and technological progress may be hindered if one half of the workforce is not participating. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in order to ensure that women, LGBTQIA+ are given the same opportunities as men to pursue STEM fields and contribute to the country’s development.
I firmly believe that gender equality in the sciences, corporate, and politics can be achieved through a three-pronged approach. Firstly, we must encourage more young women to pursue STEM and other fields, equipping them with the skills and knowledge to reach their full potential and come up with creative and innovative solutions. Secondly, we must implement better policies at the college level to ensure that women have a safe and secure environment to pursue their careers.
Finally, we must empower women in leadership roles to reach the highest levels of technology firms, inspiring other young women who, like myself, are drawn to the STEM fields. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it can also have a positive impact on the bottom line; research has shown that companies with greater diversity in their organizations have higher returns and are more profitable.
In response to the widening gender gap in higher education, the Government of India and numerous influential organizations have launched initiatives to empower female scientists and provide them with the necessary resources to succeed. These efforts have made notable advances in the past few decades, yet the gender gap still persists. Women’s leadership can be a powerful tool in advocating for a more gender-balanced atmosphere in educational institutions.
 It can be used to create sustainable and gender-inclusive policies and practices that promote financial stability, equitable pay, robust mentorship and career progression programmes, and increased job opportunities for women in STEM. Doing so can create an environment where all genders are respected, supported, and given equal opportunities to reach their full potential. In fact, bridging the skills gap could create a staggering 1 million job opportunities for women, men as well as transgenders, with higher income potential. This could be a major boon to the economy, providing a much-needed boost to employment and wages. Furthermore, it could help to reduce the gender wage gap, allowing women to access higher-paying positions and achieve greater financial security. To make this a reality, we must encourage girls to consider careers in these traditionally male-dominated areas.
To promote equal opportunities for women in the sciences, UNESCO and UN-Women, in collaboration with various institutions and civil society partners, annually celebrate “The International Day of Women and Girls in Science” on February 11th to honor the many female pioneers and leading minds in STEM who have served as powerful role models for younger generations of female scientists.
This day also highlights the support system that UNESCO provides to help young girls achieve their dreams in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The need for such celebrations as Women in Science Day is clear, as the participation of women of color and those from LGBTQIA+ communities is limited in teaching and research positions. Workplace harassment, pay gaps, and hostile working environments continue to prevent women from reaching their full potential in the scientific arena.
To conclude, I would like to emphasize that no child should be restricted in their educational endeavors and be empowered to pursue their dreams and aspirations regardless of their social class, ethnicity, color, gender identity, religion, or background. As the leading generation, it is our responsibility to guide the younger generations to reach their goals and help them to build  a brighter, stronger, and more positively impactful future for our Nation.
Maibam Ricky Devi is a multiple-time award-winning blogger and an active researcher in neutrino physics, group theory, and modular forms (number theory).
She recently submitted her PhD thesis from the Department of Physics at Gauhati University. In addition to her academic pursuits, she is a passionate activist and social worker who advocates for women, children and animal rights