Why Indian companies need to focus on hiring more women in STEM fields

By Dr Kavitha Thangasami
November 13, 2022, Updated on : Sun Nov 13 2022 01:46:32 GMT+0000
Why Indian companies need to focus on hiring more women in STEM fields
For organisations in STEM areas, uplifting women must be a business priority and only then can there be change in existing cultural norms, organisational models and policies.
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More conversations about gender equity in STEM fields is always a good thing. But what’s at risk is all the ‘noise’ drowning out real action and progress.


Despite great progress being made by many companies across the world in hiring more women, a lot is yet to be done. Did you know that India is among the countries with a higher number of women graduates in STEM fields? As inspiring as it is, the reality is such that although 43% of STEM graduates are women, only 14% of them are employed in STEM fields. And over the years, the number of women in STEM fields and in the workforce in general, has reduced.


India’s labor force looks very different in 2022, compared to just two years ago. Women’s representation in the labor force has contracted, particularly in urban areas. While women’s labor force is 9.4% smaller, the contraction is only 1.6% for men. Most notably, about 3/4 th of the reduction was driven by the fall in urban women’s labor force participation.


The stark reality is that, if gender equity initiatives continue as they exist, we probably won’t witness gender equity in our lifetimes. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, gender parity will likely take 99.5 years to reach across 107 countries. There’s a lot of work to be done, a lot to challenge and a lot to change. But the first step to fixing a problem is recognising there is one.

Gender equity in hiring strategies

Equity is not just equality — it is the way organisations challenge existing structures to create better ones. While true gender equity is an ongoing process, there are movements at the organisational level that can be the harbinger of change. Initiatives focusing on equality ensure each employee is given access to the same resources, pay and opportunities. Equity on the other hand requires organisations to acknowledge that people of different genders have different circumstances that may work against them.


Gender equity focuses on allocating resources so that everyone can reach that state of equality. Workforce and hiring strategies must reflect this principle and ensure that women are fully equipped to take on the fastest-growing and better-paid roles. Diversity in hiring must combat unconscious bias that men are more equipped to handle roles in STEM fields and help create an environment where people of all genders can thrive.


Organisations need to become aware of unconscious biases, acknowledge and address them. In addition, setting goals and tracking outcomes will lead to faster progress.


For instance, hiring managers must constantly ask themselves: Am I keeping gender equality in mind when hiring for entry-level positions? From the outset, fewer women than men are hired at the entry level and at every subsequent step henceforth, the representation of women declines even more. This makes it crucial for organisations to implement policies that generate equity in hiring. That begs the question: Can any business truly bridge the gender gap and get rid of biases if it fails to treat women fairly right from the beginning of their careers?

A data-driven approach to creating gender equity

For any organisation to implement successful gender equity policies, identifying where the problems lie and understanding the workforce demography becomes critical. For instance, policies that aren't data-driven will fail if companies wish to improve diversity in recruiting and promotions. On the other hand, identifying how many women exist in the organisation, number of women in leadership roles, the number of women promoted vis-a-vis men etc., can help businesses arrive at a baseline of where they stand in terms of creating gender equity.


With this data, companies can implement policies that are suited for their workforce because every organisation is different, with an intersectionality of employees with diverse backgrounds. A data-driven approach is more likely to succeed as companies can focus on resolving specific issues.


Employers need to consistently listen to their employees. A data-driven approach is a sure-shot way of doing that. But more importantly, it can identify the biases — conscious or unconscious — and find ways to eliminate them.

Men can be allies for women in STEM

What does being an ally for female coworkers look like? Can we identify our unconscious biases? While men grapple with these questions, evidence points towards businesses being more successful when men become allies for gender equity. Organisations where men actively engaged in diversity programs witnessed 96% success, whereas programs with less support from male workers, aimed exclusively at females, are successful only 30 percent of the time.


Some biases are deep rooted and oftentimes begins at a very young age. It’s not unfounded that men are given more opportunities to thrive in STEM fields right from school. That inequality experienced during girls’ formative years only solidifies when they enter the workforce. But more importantly, it could turn into an unconscious bias among men in the workforce, that women cannot perform better than them. Breaking this bias requires a conscious effort from the male workforce. It can start with a few simple steps:


●     Give women at your workplace undivided attention, just as you expect your coworkers to listen to you.

●     If men are dominating a discussion, ensure female colleagues also get to weigh in on ideas, strategies, and decisions because diverse perspectives are important to learning and growth.

●     Most often, we’ve witnessed male managers taking credit for the work done by female colleagues. Give credit where it’s due and when you see other male colleagues do the same, identify it and ensure such biases have room for change.

●     We’ve witnessed how women are often tasked with taking notes, setting up meetings, planning outings, office events etc. These tasks must be assigned based on experience and not based on gender.

●     Drive change in terms of language and attitude towards women at the workplace.

●     Keep gender in mind while hiring and promoting employees — because organisations need more women leaders


While we must acknowledge that businesses across the world are leading efforts to bridge the gender gap, there’s no doubt that women still fall behind in STEM fields. For organisations in STEM areas, uplifting women must be a business priority and only then can there be change in existing cultural norms, organisational models and policies.


Going forward, organisations need to identify if they are hiring from new avenues, teaching their workforce about biases and take action to reduce this bias during the hiring and promotion process. There are still a lot of questions with no simple solutions to resolve the gender equity gap. But change of such a large scale can only happen when organisations take measures — no matter how small — to address it.


(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan

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