Celebrating International Women's Day 2021

March Eight is well known as International Women's Day throughout the globe. It celebrates success and highlights the challenges confronted by women. This year Vigyan Prasar celebration is focussed on the theme #ChooseToChallenge: Promoting women Scientist, Technologists and Techpreneurs.

There is no question that science and technology can help to create a brighter future for everyone. But to make S&T applications and discipline beneficial for every person around the globe, we need an inclusive environment that can enable fostering innovations.  However, in reality, women are vastly underrepresented in emerging fields of S&T like AI, Robotics, data sciences, nanotechnology, etc., and the numbers make it clear. Women comprise just 28% of the science and engineering workforce, and that number further drops when observing the number of women pursuing university degrees in said fields. About 55% of university graduates are females, but only a little over one-third of those degrees are in STEM. A world-level research study reveals that only 3% of females take coursework for information communication technology (ICT), with just 5% choosing to pursue a career in mathematics or statistics and a slightly better 8% in engineering.

The entry and retention of women in science and technology has been a matter of concern for the government and the scientific academia who is a stake holder in the process. Although there is growing recognition of the importance of the issue in developing countries, India faces a lack of information that prevents researchers from deepening the understanding of this phenomenon and policymakers from designing effective interventions. Government of India is continuously striving towards enhancing women participation in science education and research. Although numerous schemes are already being implemented to enhance the women’s entry and retention in science education and research, the gender gap still exist in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

To foster gender diversity in the tech space and accelerate advances in emerging S&T fields, we must encourage and facilitate women at all levels, from the government to enterprise, and establish equal opportunities for all. From all over the world, strong women STEM leaders have begun to inspire girls and young women to dream big and chase career opportunities in engineering, artificial intelligence, and the sciences to become self-reliant.

Emerging technologies have great potential to impact the careers and livelihoods of women across all sectors and demographics. The agility, innovation, and adoption of modern technology have enabled them to open new doors of revenues and better reach to society. They create new, better normal by understanding emerging societal needs, meeting them with collaborations, critical thinking, and adopting technology focused on intrinsic human values. The lack of role models and mentors for women in the technology sector is a big problem. Those enrolling in engineering courses do not have anyone to look up to. Women need to be keenly aware of this and take conscious action to progress in their careers. It's the time to showcase the women's potential and capabilities in a broad spectrum of Science and Technology.

 Women entrepreneurship is instrumental for achieving economic and societal growth. Despite constituting around half of India's total population, the economic participation of women is minimal. Women entrepreneurs of India are now emerging in non-traditional sectors. The tech industry is driving the world today. From artificial intelligence to data analytics, new tech-driven formats are disrupting the industry almost every day. However, coupling the challenges of women entrepreneurs and a techpreneur gives rise to a combination for the world to see! However, it is evident that women face numerous challenges in the course of their entrepreneurial careers. There is a need for a comprehensive action plan to counter these challenges. Even though the government has framed and implemented various supportive measures, women entrepreneurship in India remains alarmingly low. The majority of the women-owned establishments are concentrated in the unregistered sector and hence cannot reap the benefits of government support.

Let's rethink our definitions of scientific and technological progress to develop new narratives of scientific careers so that everyone can see themselves in STEM fields and find a passion and place they belong in.