Preparing girl students for ‘New Collar Jobs’ in STEM
UPES under its ‘Shakti’ initiative, offers 25% scholarship on tuition fees for all girl students for the complete program duration
‘She is a woman. Oh! She can’t excel in science or mathematics. That is a male-only domain.’ Such vicious stereotypes held women back from making progress for years. Though India was among the first countries in the sub-continent to get a woman Prime Minister way back in the 1960s, there was a dearth of women in a vast number of sectors, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM.
However, the time, when women used to be at the receiving end of the gender bias, is over. Across the world, we are seeing pro-women legislations and judicial interventions that are strengthening the feminist narrative.
Consider the defence sector, for instance. Women began working in the army as nurses and doctors. Over the years, they started venturing into more technical fields and are now entering regiments that were earlier considered completely ‘male bastions’. Today, we have some of the best women engineers and scientists in Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), making a mark in aerospace.
Turning the pages of India’s history, one would find women scientists and mathematicians such as Rukhmabai, India’s first practising lady doctor, (1894), Janaki Ammal, Masters in Botany, (1925), Asima Chatterjee, Doctorate in Organic Chemistry, (1944), Kamla Sohonie, Doctorate in Biochemistry, (1939), and, Rajeshwari Chatterji, Degree in Engineering, (1943). Nonetheless, even today, only 14.3% of science researchers in India are women as per a report published by the World Economic Forum.
While in school, we often hear female students outshining their male counterparts. However, reports reveal that women leave STEM disciplines in disproportionate numbers during their higher education studies, in their transition to the world of work and even in their career cycle. Reasons include the double burden syndrome or the increased burden of household and family responsibilities on women and the lack of quality education necessary at the right age.
The big question thus remains: how does one retain female students in STEM? By creating opportunity and then enabling women to access that opportunity for a fair and justified representation of women in STEM. Government, Corporates and Academic Institutions are working in their own capacity and power towards the empowerment of women.
UPES has declared 2020 as the Year of Women Empowerment. The University, under its ‘Shakti’ initiative, offers 25% scholarship on tuition fees for all girl students for the complete program duration. Additionally, there are special masterclasses/training sessions for their existing girl students, thereby preparing the woman workforce of the future. There is also a women leadership training program for UPES internal faculty and staff. Plans are afoot to extend it to other universities/corporates. UPES has also been running several women-centric CSR programs and intends to scale up its efforts in the year ahead.
When we talk about building human-friendly solutions, the ‘human’ aspect can only be considered complete if there is an equal representation of men and women in the team who build the solution. STEM education is also critical in nurturing the 21st-century skills such as analytical and conceptual thinking and creative problem-solving. Moreover, some of the highest-paying jobs in the world today are in the technology space. And if only 28% of the students enrolling in higher education in ICT are women, then the skill and pay gap will keep on widening. Overcoming the blatant gender gap in India’s technological workforce is not a matter of choice anymore. It is essential.