- Gender issues, particularly gender inequality and discrimination in academia relating to higher education, perhaps came under the spotlight for the first time in India in 1937 when Professor D.M. Bose, then Professor of physics at Calcutta University, was reluctant to include Bibha Chowdhuri in his research group on the ground that he did not have suitable research projects to assign to women. Chowdhuri was unfazed and had her way. She joined Bose’s research group. Her work on cosmic rays in determining the mass of mesons is legendary.
The general bias against women which arose out of suspected capability of their intelligence and their mettle in undertaking the arduous task of research was quite common in the 20th century. Things have changed and the glass ceiling has been broken. But how far have we progressed in the last 100 years in shedding this bias and ensuring that women are on a par with men in academic institutions.
What is Glass Ceiling?
- It refers to an invisible barrier that stops the rise of women (or any other disadvantaged/ marginalised group) from reaching top positions of an organisation, polity, or society.
- The concept originated in corporate management sphere where it was defined as the ‘artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management level positions’
- But ambit of the concept of glass ceiling has now been expanded to include other spheres as well, in which progress of certain individuals are hampered artificially.
Glass ceiling in the corporate world:
- On the contrary, participation of women in leadership and decision-making positions in private enterprises (the corporate sector) is startling when compared to the reality in academics.
- The number of women in senior management positions in the corporate sector in India is 39%, which is higher than the global average.
- Number of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies is 15% while female board members in the management of private enterprises have been growing from 15% in 2016 to 19.7% in 2022. If this trend continues, near parity will be reached by 2045, according to a forecast made by Deloitte.
- It is worth reflecting on the reasons for this discrepancy in female participation in higher positions in these two sectors. The mechanism of selection and promoting personnel in the private sector is mostly based on competence or merit because it is more result (market) oriented with a definite matrix than what it is in the academic institutes.
- Second, encouraging the participation of women in the workforce in the private sector with the adoption of various schemes for women began long ago when compared to the initiatives taken by the Government of India in recent years.
- Various schemes such as flexi-hour worktime, rejoining the workforce after an interim break, sections operated only by women, etc. were introduced in private enterprises as early as the 1990s with the benefits being reaped now.
Causes for under-participation of women in STEM:
- Stereotypes: stereotypical gender roles like women work as housewives.
- Patriarchal and Societal Causes: biased attitudes in hiring practices or awarding fellowships and grants etc.
- Stressors related to marriage and childbirth, pressures to conform to societal norms and trappings of domesticity – responsibility related to running of households and elder care further hinder the representation of women in these non-conventional fields.
- Lack of Role Models: Organisational factors have also played a big role in preventing gender parity. Lack of women leaders and women role models may be preventing more women from entering these fields.
- Absence of Supportive Institutional Structure: Women leave the workforce, due to the absence of supportive institutional structures during pregnancy, safety issues in fieldwork and workplace.
- Poor education and healthcare access are responsible for a lesser number of women in these fields.
- Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI): a pilot project under the Department of Science and Technology to promote gender equity in science and technology
- Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN)- a plan under the Department of Science and Technology again to encourage women scientists in science and technology and also preventing women scientists from giving up research due to family reasons, are noteworthy.
- One of the programmes under KIRAN called ‘Women Scientist Scheme’ — provides career opportunities to unemployed women scientists and technologists, especially those who had a break in their career.
- Indo-US Fellowship for Women in STEMM (WISTEMM) program– Under this bilateral agreement, Indian women scientists can now work in research labs in the US.
- Consolidation of University Research for Innovation and Excellence in Women Universities (CURIE) programme– It aims at improving R&D infrastructure and establishing state-of-the-art research facilities in order to create excellence in S&T in women universities.
- Vigyan Jyoti programme– Meritorious girl students of Class 9-12 are being encouraged to pursue higher education and career in the STEM field.
However, despite all these endeavours, there is still a gender bias that persists and which has not been removed fully. Women are still an under-represented population globally in hardcore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
- Role of Science Academies: Science academies have to reflect upon their role and contributions to promote and retain women in science, thereby making science inclusive and sensitive.
- Bringing Behavioural Changes: Subdued gender participation emanates from social-economic issues, which can be treated by bringing behavioural change. This can be changed if more women are given leadership positions.
- Breaking the glass ceiling systemically: Remove the sexism and institutional obstacles that prevent more women from entering the scientific field.
- Affirmative action: government can examine having a policy of reservation of seats for women in all research institutions, higher education universities, laboratories, and STEM organisations.
- Awareness generation: Gender equality is not just an ethical imperative, but also a business priority. Organisations with greater diversity among their executive teams tend to have higher profits and greater innovation capability. By making people realise it, we can improve gender inclusivity across different sectors.
It is hoped the programmes that have been initiated by the Government to empower women in the workforce will usher in gender parity by 2047, which would mark the centenary of India’s Independence- a true ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’.
Must Read: Number of women scientists goes up
Source: The Hindu