Stem The Gap

India is poised to have the world’s youngest population by 2022 and the women should play a definitive role in configuring the country’s future

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Imagine a movie, set 20 years from now in 2039. How would the world seem then? A whole lot changed, would be my answer! The rate at which the world is transforming has been speeded up by advances in science and technology – whether it’s the way we communicate with loved ones across continents, travel the far corners of the world for one gasp of experiencing breathtaking natural beauty or not moving our butt an inch from our couch thanks to almost everything being home-delivered at the click of button!

I remember the day my Dad bought me my first music album. It was ABBA and all those amazing numbers were crammed up into one precious ‘cassette’. In a few days, the tape started to slip out every time I played it, but I would happily roll it back in with my finger. Neither I nor my Dad (who despite being an IIT engineer) could have predicted how we would listen to music in 2019!

Yes, the future is uncertain. The one thing that is certain, is the role science & technology would play in shaping it. Would we not then want all of the best brains on the planet to be contributing to it?

Sadly, that is not the case.

WHAT is the STEM gender gap

The STEM gender gap refers to the under-representation of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with female participation in these areas between 10-30% across different countries. This gender gap:

  • is much higher than that in other fields
  • cuts across countries and cultures
  • widens with age as one goes from higher education to senior industry roles

WHY is it critical

The wider the gap, the graver the concerns. It impacts at both individual & society level and has implications both on current and future generations.

National Level

Women make up half of the population. More participation from half the population would directly improve the country’s GDP, taxpayers contributions and overall economic stability. It would also reduce the opportunity cost of women who enter undergrad & post-grad degrees but drop out before entering the professional field or as the year’s progress.

Organisational Level

Diversity brings into perspective. Perspective leads to improvements in quality, increased innovation and an overall more competitive workforce.

Individual Level

At the most basic level, STEM attempts to answer how things work. The scientific and engineering processes offer a framework for understanding important ideas, big and small. In addition, while using these processes, young people learn how the problem-solving approach to analyse, communicate, resolve and create something new. Encouraging more women who want to pursue STEM fields ensures correct career mapping, individual happiness and a sense of achievement & contentment. Happier women will make happier families and happier futures.

WHERE does the STEM gap Stem from

It is believed that the roots of this gap are set during the initial years itself and solidified by the age of 10-15 years. Two types of beliefs discourage girls from pursuing STEM at an early age:

  • negative stereotypes about the intellectual abilities of girls vs boys
  • stereotypes about the people who work in STEM careers as being ‘nerdy’ or ‘unattractive’.

If we want to get more women into STEM, we will need to work at the grassroots level, focus on students 10-15 years old, and tailor strategies to their needs.

HOW to STEM the ap

The right question then is ‘What we can all be doing to make our homes and family lives more STEM-friendly?’.

  1. Bust the Myth & break the barrier – girl’s are not bad at Math! Just as boys too can cook. Contrary to belief, it’s not a biological disposition but rather an individual aptitude that determines one’s competence in a particular subject. To encourage our girls to choose STEM streams in school, we need to first un-learn & re-invent our own innate belief system.
  2. Encourage the WHY Questions & discover the Scientist within – curiosity may kill the cat, but it tells your child how the universe functions. Kids ask the seemingly silliest of questions, but it is not so much as the questions, rather it is the ‘process’ of thinking through them that inculcates a scientific thinking approach to life. As we grow up, we tend to stop questioning the WHY and instead start chasing the HOW. By encouraging girls to be curious, we will, in fact, be increasing their chances of becoming researchers, developers & scientists.
  3. Replace Entertainment with Infotainment & create an environment that promotes science – the former equals spending time, the latter investing. Teach your girls to invest their time in a fun yet informative ways. The environment we are brought up in has an equal if not higher impact than genetics.
  4. Teach your girl kick-boxing, your boy how to bake & break the stereotypes – ensure that they explore all kinds of avenues in order to discover what they love and who they want to be. Don’t box them in; let them explore their interests and walk the path of self-discovery. This will ensure the best brains with the highest predisposition to STEM will actually choose those fields.
  5. Leverage Role Models & be one yourself – want you cannot see, you cannot know and what you do not know, you can never be. Introduce your girls to women role models from the STEM field within your own circle. Encourage them to read up on their journeys, their challenges, their dreams, their achievements. It will broaden their outlook and expand their vision to exciting possibilities. Visualisation is one of the key tools to bring one closer to the goal and live the dream.

The gender gap in STEM is surely not driven by biology but rather by humanity.

It’s time to change our own age-old beliefs. Let’s bust the myths around gender drove aptitude by encouraging girls to dream big, explore their interests and choose their own paths in life, STEM is one of them. Let’s together bridge the gap, nurture more women scientists and be proud to be contributing towards building a better, balanced, beautiful 2039!

(Geetika Saigal, is Author of the Amazon Bestseller, ‘Finding Your G-Spot’) (Views Are Personal) 

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