STEMming Gender Gap of Engineering in India

India Expo Mart Ltd, Education Post

It’s not a secret that the engineering sector in India is still predominantly male-dominated. When you step into an engineering firm, it is evident that the representation of women is significantly low. It’s a most underrated question, “Why is it so?” Prabhav Anand, Correspondent, Education Post, delved into the underlying reasons as to why more girls are not pursuing careers in engineering in India to tackle this issue.

Recognizing the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce that represents society, it becomes crucial to address the lack of gender balance in engineering. Understanding and addressing these factors is essential not only for the sake of achieving gender equality but also for the future of the engineering sector itself. A diverse and inclusive workforce brings a range of perspectives and ideas, enabling us to effectively tackle the challenges of the built environment that lie ahead. By exploring the barriers that discourage girls from pursuing engineering and identifying ways to overcome them, we can create a more inclusive and equitable educational and professional landscape in India.

During an educational event at India Expo Mart Ltd, Education Post took a survey and asked more than 200 girl students in which most of them have completed their 12th board or appearing for the board. Asking about why most of the girls don’t choose engineering as their first choice, and almost everyone there had the similar answer. One said, “This sector is male-dominated and even their parents don’t allow them to opt for engineering as their career field. And even if parents agree to let them go for engineering, they try to compel their kids to choose computer science or Electronics and communication engineering.” Another girl said, “It’s a stereotype that only male can go for engineering and it’s not made for the female.”

The field of engineering is considered to be one of the most lucrative and prestigious professions in India. However, when it comes to gender diversity, it is a well-known fact that women are underrepresented in this field. Despite concerted efforts to improve the situation, the number of girls in engineering in India remains low.

The data is quite stark. According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2020-21 report, only 19.2% of engineering students in India are women. This is a dismally low figure, especially considering that women make up nearly half of the country’s population. The problem is not limited to India alone. Gender disparities in STEM fields are a global phenomenon. However, the situation is particularly dire in India, where social and cultural norms continue to hinder the progress of women in many spheres of life, including education and employment.

Several factors contribute to the low number of girls in engineering in India.

First and foremost, there is a lack of encouragement and support for girls to pursue STEM subjects. From a young age, girls are often discouraged from pursuing technical fields, and instead, they are encouraged to focus on more “feminine” pursuits. This societal conditioning leads to a lack of interest among girls in STEM subjects, and many of them do not even consider engineering as a viable career option.

Secondly, there is a significant gender bias in STEM education, especially at the undergraduate level. Female students in engineering colleges often report feeling isolated and unsupported, which can lead to lower academic performance and higher dropout rates. Many female students face a hostile environment in engineering colleges, where they are subjected to ridicule and harassment by their male peers. The lack of female faculty and mentors exacerbates the problem, as female students have few role models to look up to and learn from.

Thirdly, there are several structural barriers that prevent girls from pursuing engineering. For instance, many girls come from conservative families that are hesitant to send their daughters away from home for higher education. Engineering colleges are often located in urban areas, far away from rural and semi-urban areas where many girls come from. The high cost of engineering education is also a major hurdle, as many families cannot afford to pay for their daughters’ education in a field that is still perceived as male-dominated and unwelcoming.

Anubha Goel, an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at IIT, Kanpur, gave a major reason behind the lower ratio of women in core engineering branches.

“It seems it is the parents who discourage women from getting into civil and mechanical engineering, because they presume the girls will have to be involved in work such as highway construction and will have to deal with a lot of men, who may not be as accommodating or decent,” she told Education Post.

Anubha Goel, Associate Professor, Civil Engineering Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur

So, what can be done to address the problem of the low number of girls in engineering in India?

“First of all, there needs to be a concerted effort to change societal attitudes towards girls and STEM education. Parents, educators, and policymakers need to work together to create a more supportive and encouraging environment for girls to pursue technical fields. This can include initiatives such as mentorship programs, career counseling, and scholarships for girls in STEM subjects.”

“Second, engineering colleges need to address the gender bias that exists in their institutions. They need to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for female students, which includes hiring more female faculty, providing mentorship and support programs, and ensuring a safe and harassment-free campus environment.”

“And at Last, there needs to be a concerted effort to make engineering education more accessible and affordable for girls. This can include initiatives such as setting up engineering colleges in rural and semi-urban areas, providing scholarships and financial aid to girls from low-income families, and creating awareness campaigns to inform parents and students about the opportunities available in engineering.”

Several initiatives have been undertaken in recent years to address the gender gap in engineering in India. The government has launched various programs such as the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save the girl child, educate the girl child) campaign and the “Udaan scheme”, which aims to increase the enrollment of girls in technical education. However, these initiatives have had limited success, and much more needs to be done to address the root causes of the problem.

IIT Delhi has aimed up to make it a 50-50% gender ratio for their upcoming in the IITs. So what do you think? All IITs should do that?

“Well, I think that’s a good idea. It’ll be good to get more women involved. But I think at the end of the day, getting into the IIT or any educational institute, it should be based on merit. It should not be based on somebody’s gender. I think that is not fair.”

One potential solution is to focus on promoting engineering as a viable career option for girls from an early age. This can involve creating awareness campaigns that target young girls and their parents, highlighting the benefits and opportunities of pursuing engineering. Additionally, schools can work towards creating a more gender-inclusive environment in their classrooms, where girls are encouraged to participate in STEM subjects and are provided with the necessary resources and support to do so.

Another solution is to increase the representation of women in leadership positions in STEM fields. This can be done by promoting and recognizing the contributions of women in STEM, creating mentorship and networking opportunities for women, and ensuring that gender diversity is a key consideration in hiring and promotion decisions.

The underrepresentation of girls in engineering in India is a multifaceted problem that requires a concerted effort from various stakeholders to address. While progress has been made in recent years, there is still a long way to go before we can achieve gender parity in this field. By addressing the root causes of the problem and implementing targeted interventions, we can create a more inclusive and diverse STEM workforce, which will benefit not only women but also society as a whole.

The gender disparity in the engineering sector within the field of education in India is a concerning issue that demands attention. Data collected from various sources shed light on the factors contributing to this imbalance and the consequences it entails.

The National Sample Survey (NSS) reveals that the representation of women in engineering has shown minimal progress over the past decade. In 2011-12, women accounted for just 14.6% of all engineering students, and this figure has only slightly increased to 19.2% in 2020-21. Moreover, the gender gap is more prominent in specific branches of engineering. For instance, women constitute merely 8.4% of civil engineering students, 16.7% of mechanical engineering students, and 21.5% of electrical engineering students, according to the AISHE data.

A significant concern is the high dropout rate among female engineering students, as highlighted by a study conducted by the Indian Society for Technical Education. In some states, the dropout rate for female students in engineering colleges reaches a staggering 60%. This attrition exacerbates the gender gap within the field.

The underrepresentation of female faculty in engineering colleges poses a substantial obstacle to achieving gender diversity. Merely 15.4% of engineering college faculty are women, as reported by the AISHE. The lack of female mentors and role models in the field hinders the progress and aspirations of female students.

The challenges persist for women who do pursue engineering careers. A study by the World Economic Forum reveals that women in India are significantly underrepresented in senior leadership roles within STEM fields. Only 15% of senior STEM positions in the country are held by women, in contrast to the global average of 28%.

The lack of female representation in STEM fields is not merely a social justice concern but also represents an economic missed opportunity. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that achieving gender parity in the workforce could contribute a staggering $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025.

Several factors contribute to the gender gap in engineering. Persistent stereotypes labeling engineering as a “masculine” field discourage many women from pursuing careers in STEM. A survey conducted by the International Labor Organization reveals that 38% of women who did not pursue STEM careers cited the perception of these fields as “male-oriented” as a significant barrier.

Insufficient support for women in STEM further perpetuates the gender gap. According to a study by the National Science Foundation, women are less likely to have mentors or receive research funding compared to their male counterparts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added additional hurdles for women in STEM. Research published in Nature indicates that women in academia have been submitting fewer papers, publishing less, and receiving fewer citations during the pandemic. These setbacks may have long-term consequences for their careers and further exacerbate the underrepresentation of women in STEM.

Addressing the gender gap in the engineering sector requires a comprehensive approach. Encouraging young girls to pursue STEM education, challenging stereotypes, providing mentorship opportunities, and promoting gender-inclusive policies are essential steps toward achieving greater gender diversity in engineering and unlocking the untapped potential of women in the field.

By fostering a more inclusive environment, we can strive to create a future where women are equally represented in the engineering sector, contributing their skills and expertise to drive innovation and shape the technological landscape of India and the world.


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