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How to Increase Women’s Participation in STEM


Women in STEM is a highly debated subject as many changed in society need to be implemented before we can begin to see additional progress. Women who wish to have careers that are sustainable, and progressive are often looked down upon and have their confidence undermined. That said, women with minimum or no education are starting their own businesses regardless of these unfortunate remarks. So, what does it show? Education such as STEM should be used to boost female confidence and women need to believe in themselves rather than waiting for others to motivate them.

There are multiple reasons why women are underrepresented including – unconscious and conscious bias, lack of family and societal support, non-conducive workplace environment, lack of opportunities and more. The most noteworthy reason, however, is a lack of role models which creates a lack of motivation and confidence in women. This is a vicious cycle and exactly what needs to be addressed. If women are supported and are able to sustain their careers, they are able to reach leadership positions and become role models for others to follow.

In the current pandemic, we have seen that women have been the first ones to lose their jobs either by their own decision or that of their employer. Even when a woman has a job, it has always been the expectation of the society that somehow, she needs to adjust her workload to suit her family’s demands first.

There is,however, a reason behind this. Women have shown themselves to be responsible and resilient in both spheres – family and work. The upbringing of women stops them from letting go of this self-imposed responsibility and embraces it as a natural phenomenon. Looking after children or elders consumes much of women’s’ time because of this self-imposed responsibility. The sharing of household work by men is not encouraged in many societies and this mindset puts most of the burden on the women.

Women need to create a balance of work and family responsibility– they need to identify what is required of them in their roles and what gives them happiness, and then allot time for both. Many times, women forget about themselves and their happiness and end up being overworked and overloaded. Making a career for oneself and maintaining it requires aspiration and strong self-motivation.Sometimes, identifying a mentor can help in escaping the self-proclaimed web of responsibilities and provide a clear perspective.

We talk about unconscious bias, but the source of this bias doesn’t always come from others. Sometimes, unconscious beliefs about oneself and the implicit bias that these beliefs create can be more dangerous to one’s self-esteem and impact his/her actions.With that in mind, it is easy to overcome these unconscious beliefs if we are aware of them and ready to address them with others.

So, what are some recommendations for overcoming the challenges associated with female representation in STEM?

For Society and Employers:

  • Societal change surrounding the outlook of women’s education and career
  • Increased awareness amongst young girls about STEM and the celebration of role models
  • Career support for women through conscious activities like the sharing of household work
  • Ensure a conducive environment for female employees and encourage collaboration in the workplace
  • Make female retention a goal of the organization and provide mentoring

For Women:

  • Unlearn the implicit beliefs and bias about oneself
  • Make conscious and informed decision to retain a career
  • Identify a mentor early and make a habit of networking with colleagues
  • Be transparent about taking a break in a career and create an environment for re-entry
  • Being a superwoman is not the order of the day; sustaining your career is. Share your responsibilities with other members of the family

(The author Ramalatha Marimuthu is an IEEE Senior Member and the views expressed in this article are her own)

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