Bridging Gender Gap in STEM

Women in science has been a much talked and debated topic, with many arguing the qualitative factors that lead to women taking alternative educational and career pathways. According to UNESCO data, the percentage of women researchers in the world falls under 30%, also lamenting the gender gap that exists in STEM careers. Having said that, women who infact have careers in science are known to publish lesser and not progress as well as their counterparts.

With Governments and international organizations trying hard to bridge this gap with fellowships and schemes to support women scientists, we spoke to Dr Samiya Khan, a researcher at University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom, about her journey and experiences. Dr Khan is an alumna of Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia, India, who served as faculty at Jamia Millia Islamia before she chose to take up a postdoctoral research position at University of Wolverhampton.

Prior to getting into research and academia, Dr Samiya Khan worked with IT firms in varied roles such as Technical Writer and Software Design Engineer. She is of the opinion that industry experience nurtures your professional prowess by infusing qualities like professional conduct, flexibility and dynamism to your work. Although women naturally possess the ability to adapt and multi-task, some work responsibilities require long hours at work or travelling, both of which have a completely different set of personal challenges associated with them.

Coming back to the topic of gender disparity in research careers, she believes that it is a mix of personal and organizational factors that lead to women either losing interest or quitting their careers altogether.

Moreover, she opined that the life of a woman with a career is usually much more challenging than a man because of social pressures, multi-dimensional responsibilities and expectations. While women are no lesser in professional capabilities, priorities naturally differ and it takes a lot of family and organizational support to sustain a ‘working woman’.

Dr Khan added, “women go through much more in life, physically, emotionally and psychologically, and it is sometimes not even a result of societal oppression I would say, but naturally, that is how women were created. And then, this extrapolates to all the different walks of life. Sustaining STEM careers is challenging in view of the fact that you need to maintain work continuity. Women scientist schemes and women given upto 5 years relaxation in eligibility for most work profiles are some of the positive organization-level steps that have salvaged the careers of many women scientists.”

Ultimately, the burden of responsibility and maintaining the balance lies on the family and the sacrifices of women with successful careers are usually not as apparent and understandable as others.

However, from an organization and individual point of view, only if we could do our little bit to understand, be kind and make the lives of people around us easier, we could have many more women successfully contributing to not just science, but our society, in general.

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