Govt unveils bid to plug gender gap in Sc & Tech domain

In India, which has 43% of the total graduates in STEM as women-one of the highest in the world- only 14% become scientists, engineers, and technologists

Gender gap in Sc & Tech

New Delhi: The Central Government has launched a new initiative, Women in Engineering, Science and Technology (WEST), to encourage women towards scientific research and technological innovations.

The programme was formally launched by Parvinder Maini, Scientific Secretary in the office of Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India on September 5th.

The WEST initiative will cater to women with a STEM background and empower them to contribute to the science, technology, and innovation ecosystem. The Centre has also launched a national web portal, Indian Science Technology and Engineering facilities Map (I-STEM), for sharing research equipment/facilities and is the umbrella under which many programmes for promoting collaborations in R&D and technological innovation among and between academia and industry, especially startups, are underway.

Through the WEST initiative, I-STEM will provide a separate platform to scientifically inclined women researchers, scientists, and technologists for pursuing research in basic or applied sciences in frontier areas of science and engineering. Women may join the WEST program and explore opportunities to become stakeholders in various domains and pursue careers in R&D at various levels: technicians, technologists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Opportunities range from operating scientific equipment and maintaining them, to designing and manufacturing them, officials said.

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The skill development programmes under the WEST initiative will provide training for women with S&T backgrounds to brush up on their abilities and become engaged “in the field” as lab technicians and maintenance engineers, filling crucial gaps in the R&D infrastructure of the country. This initiative will also help bring women back into science and technology (S&T) domains after a career break.

Officials said that STEM is also the catalyst for accelerating global growth, yet struggling with gender inequality due to the under representation of women in STEM. STEM is not the exclusive domain of any gender. It’s everyone’s game. The programme also seeks to bridge the gender inequality in STEM segment.

According to a UNESCO report, only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. However, in India, the situation isn’t so bleak. While in India, 43% of the total graduates in STEM are women, which is one of the highest in the world, only 14% become scientists, engineers, and technologists. Sources indicate that India ranks second in the world’s top 20 countries with the highest number of women Tech CEOs. However, the share of Women CEOs in Tech companies in India is only a minuscule 5%.

Under the WEST initiative, the current support being provided to S&T startups by women entrepreneurs by I-STEM will be enhanced. The access to R&D facilities and R&D software platforms (COMSOL, MATLAB, LABVIEW, AUTOCAD) available through the I-STEM portal will form a strong support network for women entrepreneurs in S&T.

I-STEM shall provide a platform/forum for women researchers to deliberate on achievements, issues, and exchange ideas on taking the country forward through advances in science, technology, and innovation. In addition, a digital consortium “Connect Quickly” for online discussion and immediate support has also been established through the I-STEM WhatsApp and Telegram platforms.

A dedicated team of women will ensure the successful implementation of the WEST initiative.

In her address on the occasion of the launch, Maini appreciated the WEST initiative taken by I-STEM and called upon women in S&T to take advantage of it. She advised I-STEM to monitor the impact of the initiative by obtaining feedback and putting steps in place to increase the wider participation of women in WEST and I-STEM.

Vartika Shukla, CMD of Engineers India Ltd, Sunita Mishra, Senior Principal Scientist, Central Scientific Instruments Organization (CSIO, CSIR); and Sangeeta Semwal, Scientist, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Govt. of India also congratulated the team on the launch of the platform and called for more participation of women on I-STEM. The programme was attended by participants across the country.

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