Why the future of STEM equals gender equality

As representatives of Sweden we are very proud of the Nobel Prize, the world’s most prestigious science award, awarded each year in December. However, we sadly note that only 25 women have won a Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, medicine and...

As representatives of Sweden we are very proud of the Nobel Prize, the world’s most prestigious science award, awarded each year in December. However, we sadly note that only 25 women have won a Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics.[i] As we, the writers of this blog, are three women specializing in science and innovation diplomacy we of course think the small number of female Nobel Laureates is distressing. Such huge disparities do not happen by chance. We have therefore set out on a mission to do what we can to change the status quo and promote greater gender equality in science and technology.

Why do we think this is imperative?

STEM careers are often referred to as the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social wellbeing, inclusive growth and sustainable development. Let’s take the AI sector as an illustrative example. Over the coming decade AI will have a profound impact on our societies and the way we lead our lives. Governments all over the world are formulating ambitions plans to become leaders in AI to strengthen competitiveness and improve welfare systems. The problem is that AI is a male dominated sector. According to research from New York University’s AI Now Institute, 80 % of AI professors are male and the situation is equally distressing at the industry side.[ii] Tech giants like Facebook and Google might be on the cutting-edge of AI technology and research, but only 10-15 % of their AI workforces are women. This is problematic as algorithms written by men end up skewed to favor men, especially white men. When deployed in society (and increasingly so at a large scale), this translates into preferential treatment for one group, while other groups may be ignored all together. In other words, there is a diversity crisis in the AI sector. A more equal representation in science and technology is essential to design inclusive societies which can meet the needs of all citizens.

Gender equality is not just an ethical imperative, but a business priority. Organizations with greater diversity among their executive teams tend to have higher profits and greater innovation capability. In fact, McKinsey & Company’s Global Institute report found that narrowing the gender gap could add between $12 and $28 trillion to the global GDP.[iii]

Image Credits: Simon Paulin/Imagebank.sweden.se

In India, two groups of women face huge drawbacks in pursuing their dreams – girls who get deprived of primary education and highly qualified women professionals.[i] Yet, it is very interesting to highlight that India tops world rankings in producing female graduates in STEM (43%), but only employs 14% of them. In comparison, Sweden produces 35% female STEM graduates and employs 34% of them. According to the United Nations, Indian women constitute merely 14% of the total 280,000 scientists and engineers involved in R&D. In total numbers, only 3-6% of Indian women enroll in PhD programs in Science, Engineering and Technology.[ii] Despite ground-breaking performance, women are paid less for their research compared to men and experience huge difficulties to advance their careers.[iii] When we earlier this year attended the “International Summit on Women in STEM. Visualizing the future: New Skylines”, we were happy to note that the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology, in a bid to ‘recruit, retain and promote’ women in STEM, will now rank higher education institutions on gender equality.

Sweden is the most gender equal country in the world, which could lead one to believe that Sweden would have a higher percentage of women in science and tech. On the opposite, in countries with higher gender equality (such as Finland, Norway, and Sweden), women are less likely to get STEM degrees. This is often referred to as the “gender-equality paradox.”[iv] Both Sweden and India are experiencing rapid digitalization, which is transforming our societies at an unprecedented scale (read more about digital transformation in India here). The demand for a technologically competent workforce is on the rise in both Sweden and India. The under-representation of women in STEM therefore puts women in both countries at the high risk of being displaced by technology.

Image Credits:Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se

SHE STEM: Women Leading the Way

As part of this year’s Sweden-India Nobel Memorial Week, we are delighted to present “SHE STEM: Women Leading the Way”, a celebration of women scientists and entrepreneurs in Sweden and India. With the event we wish to honor women who are bringing cutting-edge science and technology to global sustainability efforts. With us we have a fantastic panel of researchers and entrepreneurs who will share insights from their important work. Besides our eminent panelists we also have a number of Indian schools joining the event.

Why do we think this event is of utter importance?

Gender inequality in STEM is perpetuated by gender stereotypes, male dominated cultures and lack of role models.[i] For example, STEM fields are often viewed as masculine, and both teachers and parents often underestimate girls’ math abilities already in preschool. Because fewer women study and work in STEM sectors, inflexible, exclusionary, male-dominated cultures prevail. Women and other minority group seldom feel supported in or attracted to pursue careers in such cultures. Because of this gender gap girls have fewer role models to inspire their interest in these fields.

With our event we want to provide inspiring examples, role models and success stories of women who successfully pursue careers in science and tech and spearhead knowledge building and technology development within their fields. SHE STEM: Women Leading the Way is organized by the Embassy of Sweden in India in partnership with the Atal Innovation Mission. Atal Innovation Mission is Government of India’s flagship initiative to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country.

Just click this link to register and make sure to block your calendar December 7, 3.00-4.30 pm Indian time / 10.30-12.00 Swedish time. The event is free and open to all. 

Join our mission to transform the STEM fields into dynamic, future-ready and gender equal fields!

We look forward to seeing you!

Fanny von Heland, Leena Kukreja & Mini Nair

[i] https://ainowinstitute.org/discriminatingsystems.pdf

[i] https://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Final_Report_Women_In_Science_SSESS.pdf

[ii] https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/stem-and-the-digital-economy-for-women/

[iii] https://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Final_Report_Women_In_Science_SSESS.pdf

[iv] https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000253479

[i] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/lists/nobel-prize-awarded-women/

[ii] https://ainowinstitute.org/discriminatingsystems.pdf