Alarming Study Reveals Only 13.5% of STEM Faculty in India Are Women, Exposing Deep-Seated Bias and Safety Concerns

At IIT-Mumbai and IISc, only 8% of faculty were women, while the figures were 11% and 9% for IIT-Kharagpur and TIFR, respectively. In contrast, IIT-Roorkee, IIT-Bombay, and IIT-Delhi had better representation, with 12% of their faculty being women.
Representative image of women from different communities studying
Representative image of women from different communities studyingIndia Today

New Delhi - In the echo of governmental slogans promoting gender equality, such as 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' (Save Daughters, Educate Daughters), lies a sobering truth that challenges these aspirations.

Recent findings from a comprehensive survey conducted across 98 universities in India lay bare the stark reality: a mere 13.5 percent of faculty in STEM fields are women.

The study conducted by BiasWatchIndia, which monitors women's representation in science, reveals that only 13.5 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) faculty members in 98 universities and institutes across the country are women.

This research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Communications Biology: Nature on March 30. The study notes that while countries like the US and the UK also experience low women's representation in STEM fields, the figures in India are even lower.

The authors of the study collected faculty data from June 2020 to December 2021 from the websites of 98 universities and institutes. They also examined 417 conferences to determine the proportion of women speakers by analyzing poster announcements. In the engineering faculties surveyed, women's representation was lowest at 9.2 percent, while the highest representation was observed in biology faculties at 25.5 percent.

According to the authors, biology is categorized as a 'soft science' compared to disciplines such as engineering, mathematics, physics, computer science, and chemistry. Following engineering, chemistry, computer science, and physics faculties exhibited significantly low proportions of women at 11.5 percent, 12.2 percent, and 13 percent, respectively.

In contrast, earth sciences and mathematics faculties had higher percentages of women at 14.4 percent and 15.8 percent, respectively. Among the eight top-ranked institutes surveyed, IIT-Kanpur had the lowest proportion of women faculty members at 7 percent.

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At IIT-Mumbai and IISc, only 8 percent of the faculties were women, while the figures were 11 percent and 9 percent for IIT-Kharagpur and TIFR, respectively. On the other hand, IIT-Roorkee, IIT-Bombay, and IIT-Delhi had relatively better representation, with 12 percent of their faculties being women.

The Mooknayak spoke to some female research scholars from IISc to understand if there is a trend in the institution to deter female candidates.

One scholar, who wishes to remain anonymous, recalled a disturbing situation that took place in the institute in 2019, which proves that the safety of women is still not being taken seriously.

“We had a project assistant for 6 months who was working under a PhD student.” The scholar continued, “One time when she was coming back from the lab at midnight, the PhD scholar tried forcibly kissing her.”

“Trying to avoid the situation, she ran away to her hostel as quickly as possible.”

According to her, till date the person has not directly apologized. Many reached out to the girl asking her not to take it forward as it will hamper her career. But she did take it to the administration and the only thing they did was to cut the PhD student’s pay for 3 months.

Another PhD scholar from IISc called the departments a “boys club” and said many do not feel women are competent to work in STEM. She further alleged that biases extend to interview processes where female candidates are generally asked “baseless questions” so that they are not able to clear the round.

Sudha Murthy, who was the only girl in an engineering college in the ’60s, recently revealed that there were no female washrooms in her college. Unfortunately, this still stands true even in premier colleges.

A female student who underwent her graduation from the National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, revealed that the Mechanical, Metallurgical Science, and Ceramic departments had no female washroom, and they had to rush to the main building for any emergency, which would cost them time.

The Mooknayak spoke to Dr. Gayatri Tiwari, who works in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the College of Community and Applied Sciences in Udaipur.

“Whatever we are seeing now owes its root to the society that was at least 30 years ago,” stated the counselor.

“Back then, women were primarily encouraged to pursue minimal education with the goal of finding educated husbands. Additionally, STEM courses, which involve extensive practical learning, were often discouraged for women as that would mean for them to step outside.”

In a survey of 45 institutes out of the 98, which encompasses 495 female faculty members, findings revealed that 46.3 percent were classified as early-career (with less than seven years of experience), while 27.5 percent were considered mid-career (holding the position of associate professors with 7 to 14 years of academic experience), and 26.3 percent were categorized as senior-career (serving as full professors with over 15 years of experience).

She further added that she believes with time, the gender ratio will become better as more women are going for STEM.

Need for gender audits

According to a report by The Print, scholars Shruti Muralidhar and Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan, who are the co-founders of BiowatchIndia and co-authors of the research, contend that enhancing women's participation in science necessitates dedicated resources and a firm commitment to equity from leadership in Indian science agencies and universities.

Muralidhar highlighted a widespread lack of awareness, understanding, and sensitivity towards the challenges encountered by women and minorities in STEM fields. She outlined three key factors contributing to the underrepresentation of women in STEM: insufficient awareness, inadequate funding, and biases within the field.

Muralidhar specifically emphasized the absence of centralized funding, leading to a limited number of available positions and heightened competition.

The study advocated for increased "data collection and dissemination" as a pathway toward implementing more concrete measures to enhance women's representation in STEM.

It suggested that universities and institutes should conduct regular gender audits and make the data easily accessible to the public. Additionally, the study proposed tracking annual audit data to monitor trends and establish objectives.

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