Degenderizing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

Women in STEM matter more than you think.

By Meera Kaul


Women have made great strides in the past decade, broken stereotypes and emerged successful in workplaces. The most significant achievement of these has been in the area of traditionally male-dominated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers. We now have a sizeable number of women scientists, technologists, mathematicians and engineers, though the numbers, by comparison to men in STEM, still remain appallingly low. Even with all the public dialogue, government interventions and efforts by women themselves to go past the ‘social dogmas’ attached to STEM careers, progress has been slow.


There is enough research to indicate that the inclusion of women into the productive workforce can significantly impact the prosperity of not only the communities they thrive in, but even the wellbeing of the national economies. So why are we still debating the inclusion and induction of women into STEM careers despite the investment of millions of federal and foundation dollars in programs encouraging women to enter science and engineering?


The upside

Over the past three decades, the overall percentage of women pursuing and receiving degrees in STEM disciplines has increased manifold. However, this has not necessarily translated into STEM careers for women. The primary reason for this disparity is that even though women have reached parity in the percentages of degrees received in STEM disciplines, the focus has primarily been on social and the life sciences. The numbers remain low in other areas such as geosciences, mathematics, and physical sciences, and in engineering and computer sciences, which have merged as the fastest-growing STEM fields with the highest workforce demand and pay, the percentage of women has either dropped or plateaued. Additionally, aggregated data does not reflect the attrition of women at the various stages of the education and career lifecycle. Despite qualifications and merit, at times higher than those of men, an increased number of women continue to leave science and engineering fields.


By attracting and retaining women in the STEM workforce we can maximize innovation and competitiveness. With product development and problem solving being spearheaded by male engineers alone, the needs, desires, experiences that are unique to women get completely overlooked. Whether design or scientific enquiry, a woman’s point of view can bring a fresh perspective to it. Also, not including half the population (women) in the potential scientists and engineers pool can limit the scope and prospects of discovery.


Gender gap

Zooming in closer home, the UAE showcases unique characteristics as far as the gender phenomenon is concerned. There is evidence of a reverse gender gap at school level and at university level, with girls outnumbering boys in STEM subjects and disciplines. However the ‘leaking pipeline syndrome’, as it’s called, comes into play somewhere between university graduation and the first couple of years of working, with women dropping out in large numbers from STEM careers. This basically implies the existence of an untapped pool of female talent qualified in STEM disciplines.


Why there is still a dearth of female participation in the workforce?

The causes are many – social, personal, familial. The biggest barriers that hamper women joining and staying a productive part of the workforce range from Double Burden Syndrome (balancing family and work life), a lack of infrastructure (women only or gender specific facilities) and a lack of pro-family public policies or support services. Women network less, leading to no fallback support group in terms of need. Also the exacting pressure of family and social expectations that women do not work forms the crux of these barriers.



To combat these challenges and barriers, interventions at various levels are required – social, governmental and corporate. There is a direct link between female labor participation and economic benefits. So it is in the economic interest of governments to create a policy framework that encourages women to join the workforce. Specific to the UAE, merit based Emiratization would create the necessary impetus and motivation for fostering better talent pools. Laws do not cover gender issues and there is a need for legislation to protect the rights of women. As an example, the distinct link between maternity and increased job discontinuity can be avoided through pro-family public policies and support services.


We, as women, can play a crucial role in bringing about this change. By demonstrating individualistic decision-making, taking control of their professional career path and firm corrective action, women can successfully augment their career growth trajectory. By encouraging connections between groups, families and students as well as facilitating environments to support female entrepreneurship and incubation ventures we can help women form a network that they can draw upon for inspiration and guidance. Through efficient communication, participatory decision making, role-modeling and intellectual stimulation, women need to compete on an equal footing. Job expectations and rewards, need to balanced, and women need to be able to ‘ask for more’ with confidence.


To move away from being just a diversity number, we need gender balance to be qualitative not quantitative.


Why do we need Women in STEM?

Why Not?

  • Should 50% of the world’s population not have access to science and technology education and careers?
  • Should women not be decision makers to what products, services and solutions are being created for them?
  • Women create better products for women. We need to de-genderize STEM to better women’s lives



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