According to the UNESCO report of 2021, more than 50% of women globally are graduates and master students in STEM. However, when it comes to the workforce, women are vastly outnumbered by men. Women are still under-represented in fields such as computing, digital information technology, engineering, mathematics, and physics. The sad reality is that most of these women dropout at crucial career points. It is not just due to skill inadequacy, but also a result of assigned stereotypical gender roles. Women are likely to face ‘dual role’ syndrome, wherein professional decisions are largely affected by their domestic responsibilities. 51% of women in tech fields feel burned out at work. They feel marginalized, stereotyped, and find a lack of opportunity when it comes to leadership roles. To mark Women’s Day, Women in Tech: Charging New Frontiers, Breaking Gender Stereotypes event was held on March 7, 2022 at the FICCI Federation House, New Delhi. The highlight of the event was the launch of the Women in Science and Entrepreneurship (WISE) council. The WISE Council together with FICCI Flo aims to empower women in Science & Technology as well as businesses to fearlessly aim high and achieve their best potential. The purpose of this endeavor is to break the gender bias and stereotyping among women in STEM by raising awareness, sharing the best practices and experiences of women leaders, and exchanging valuable knowledge that would help women all over the world aspire, achieve, and contribute to leadership positions in tech fields.
The welcome address was given by Mr. Subhrakant Panda, Sr Vice President, FICCI and Managing Director, IMFA. Dr. Sangita Reddy, Past President, FICCI, Chair FICCI- FLO Empowering the Greater 50% and Joint MD, Apollo Hospitals Ltd in her opening address said, “When science has no gender, why should biases creep in? Let’s come together and break this narrative, break gender stereotype, and support women in tech. Its high time we realise that while the world needs STEM, STEM needs women and girls to come in.”
Smt. Smriti Irani, Minister of Women and Child Development, Govt. of India gave the keynote address for the event. “One of the greatest challenges we see for female scientific minds is their transition from technological educational institutions to positions of research. Science is not a man’s game, not a women’s game, it is everybody’s game,” added the minister. Prof K. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), Government of India gave the special address.
Ms. Anandi Iyer, Director, Fraunhofer Office India and Chairperson, WISE Council introduced the WISE Council and shared its vision. “WISE Council will focus its activities on 5 levels she said. At the grassroot level of inspiring school and college girls to choose STEM as their chosen field, secondly at the level of training and career advancement of women in the management levels to stay in the STEM field, thirdly to encourage women in senior management and research fields to take on leadership as well as Board positions, fourthly to sponsor and promote sponsorships as well as awards for outstanding women in STEM, and finally to create an international platform for exchange of experiences, best practices and mentorship. Following this the WISE Council was launched in the presence of the Hon’ble minister Smt. Smriti Irani. A pledge statement signed by over a hundred companies was also released urging all companies to stand against gender bias and stereotyping among women in STEM fields, and to educate and promote women STEM fields. Donate your laptop drive was also launched to help and encourage women to pursue STEM fields.
Special remarks were made by Ms. Montserrat Momán Pampillo, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Spain in India. Ms. Inmaculada Riera, Director General, Spanish Chamber of Commerce, joined virtually and gave a very interesting international perspective on the Women in STEM. The concluding address was given by Amb Lakshmi Puri, Former ASG, UN, Deputy Executive Director, UN Women & Former Ambassador of India. The entire session was moderated by the Deputy Secretary General of FICCI, Ms. Jyoti Vij.
The event was followed by a power packed panel discussion by select representatives from Spain and Women leaders in STEM such as Dr. Janhavi Raut, Principal Research Scientist, Unilever Ltd, María Belén Mendizabal - Country Manager, LKS (Grupo Mondragón) and Founder and CMD of MBM Associates Planning & Sustaining, Ms. Priya Selveraj - General Manager, Country Head, Power Electronics Business in Siemens Games, Ms. Neeti Wahi, Group Chief Information & Digital Officer, Sterlite Power and Ms. Preeti Syal, Senior Specialist, NITI Aayog. The panel discussion was moderated by Mr. Jagdish Mitra, Chairman, S&T Council, FICCI. Although a lot of women enter engineering colleges, the biggest risk is the opportunity that lies is that making sure that their career progresses to senior level positions. There are no role models, mentorship, and support structure for women in STEM fields. During the panel discussion men and women in the senior roles were urged to take a stand to bring down gender bias. Companies needed to investigate their policies and provide flexible policies for women to help them have a good work life balance. Furthermore, women in senior roles could educate their male colleagues to support women employees in their teams. The gender gap cannot be bridged by only thinking what can be done for women, rather a lot needs to be done with the men to ensure they are active supporters for this cause. Mr. Nirankar Saxena, Deputy Secretary General, FICCI gave the concluding remarks of the panel discussion.