Opportunities and Challenges for Women in the fields of Engineering and Technology in India
D ARUNA PADMA
Lecturer in Computer Science
Visakha Govt. Degree College for women
email: [email protected]
Science, Engineering and Technology have many applications in every sphere of our lives. In this present technological era, continuous development in science and technology made the lives of people simple and advanced. Although there are ample opportunities to build career in the ever-growing fields of Engineering and Technology, percentage of women in these fields is far less than men. Gender equality is one of the major issues where Women should get equal career opportunities as men. Traditionally, women in India are facing many challenges especially in the fields of Engineering and Technology. As per AISHE report on Higher Education 2018-19, the share of male students enrolled in Engineering is 71.9, and only 28.1% women students are enrolled in Engineering. When it comes to building career after completion of education the percentage of women is still coming down. Now trend is changing many skilled and enthusiastic women are joining in Engineering and Technology fields, still the ratio is very imbalanced. To address this issue both educational and employment opportunities must be created for women, so that more capable women will get chance to prove themselves in Engineering and Technology field.
Keywords: Engineering and Technology, women engineers, Indian space programs, Gender parity, AISHE report, KIRAN, Vigyan Jyoti
In this rapidly changing world, substantial development in the fields of Engineering and Technology plays a critical role in improving living conditions of common people and economic growth of a Nation. The horizons of Engineering and Technology fields are continuously broadening, creating lot of employment and entrepreneur opportunities. Despite the fact that women constitute half of the Human resources, the presence of women in Engineering and Technology fields is vey less than the men. The vast pools of brilliant, hardworking and dedicated women are deprived of equal access to science, technology, education, training, information and economic resources which are essential for inclusive sustainable development. Contribution of women in Engineering and Technology is broad but their accomplishments are not properly being encouraged, hence the number of women getting promotions and appointments to higher cadres in companies or organizations is very marginal compared to men. This situation attributes to many reasons like male domination, certain stereotypes, disbelieves and common perceptions in Indian society, gender bias of parents etc. The purpose of this paper is to acknowledge the contributions of most successful women engineers in India which would motivate upcoming generation. It aims to provide information on current statistics of women in the field of Engineering and Technology, with note about opportunities and challenges faced by women during education and employment and strategies to improve women employment and retention in Tech field.
Successful Women Engineers in India
Women in India traditionally shielded away from engineering and technology. Despite of this fact recent trend shows more women participating in the growing technology sector. We should be proud of some famous women engineers who have conquered great heights in various male dominating professions by breaking all stereotype barriers and gender equality issues.
Smt A. Lalitha, was the first woman engineer of India. She got married at age of 15 and became widow at very tender age with 4months baby. She wished to earn professional degree at Queen Mary’s College in Chennai. In 1940, Lalitha joined the College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG) for the electrical engineering program. In 1944, she joined as an Assistant Engineer in the Central Standards Organization of Shimla till 1946. She left her job for her father and accompanied him in his research work. Later, she joined the Associated Electrical Industries of the Calcutta branch. There, she worked in the engineering department. In 1953, she became the associate member chosen by the Council of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London and she became a full member in the year 1966.
Smt Rajeshwari Chatterjee (24 January 1922 – 3 September 2010) was a professor and an Indian scientist. She was the first engineer from Karnataka. Chatterjee convinced Dr C V Raman, who was the Director of the Indian Institute of Science at that time, to allow her to join the Institute as a Project Fellow. After her Ph.D. degree in the Electrical Technology, she joined the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering as a faculty member. During her tenure at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, Chatterjee was a professor and later chairperson of the department of Electrical Communication Engineering. She also mentored the Ph.D. students. She wrote many books in Electrical Communication Engineering. She was the recipient of Mountbatten prize for the best paper from the Institute of Electrical and Radio Engineering (UK), J.C Bose Memorial prize for the best research paper from the Institution of Engineers, from the Institute of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers she received Ramlal Wadhwa Award for her best efforts in research and teaching work. After she retired in 1982, Chatterjee became an activist, working with the Indian Association for Women’s Studies on various social issues like gender discrimination, caste conflict, financial stress etc
Mrs Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003) was an American astronaut, engineer, and the first woman of Indian descent to go to space. Her first mission in space was Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. She was one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, when the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honour, and several streets, universities and institutions have been named in her honour. She was in space for 336 hrs during research mission. She is recognized as a national hero in India.
Smt Sudha Murthy is an Indian engineer, philanthropist, teacher, and writer. She graduated in Electrical Engineering from the B.V.B. College of Engineering & Technology. She pursued Masters in Engineering in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Science. Sudha Murthy started her career as an Engineer and a computer scientist. She is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. Sudha Murthy is also a part of public health care initiatives of the Gates Foundation. She became popular as the first female engineer, selected at TATA Engineering and Locomotive Company (India’s largest auto manufacturer company).
Mrs Padmasree Warrior, a distinguished alumna of IIT Delhi is the former Chief Executive Officer of NIO U.S, as well as a member of its board of directors. In these capacities, she was responsible for the brains of NIO’s autonomous electric vehicles and the overall user experience. Prior to this she held senior executive positions in Motorola and Cisco. She received the “Women Elevating Science and Technology” award from Working Woman Magazine in 2001. Fortune Magazine on its Most Powerful Women list, placing her between the 10 “highest paid” and the “Young and Powerful” categories called her one of four rising stars. The Economic Times ranked her as the 11th Most Influential Global Indian in 2005. She is listed as the 71st most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2014 and in 2018 she was also featured among “America’s Top 50 Women In Tech” by Forbes.
Contribution of Women in India’s Defence Research and Space Exploration programs is remarkable and source of motivation for young women generation. In making “Mangalyaan-Mission to Mars” a grand success, many women played vital role. 27% of the Mangalyaan team were women. 30% percent of team who worked on India’s most prestigious space program Chandrayaan 2 were women.
Mrs Tessy Thomas is a Scientist at DRDO, former Project Director for Agni-IV missile. She is recognized as the first woman scientist to lead a missile project in India. She is well-known as the Missile Woman of India.
Mrs Moumita Dutta is a scientist and an Engineer. She is working at the Space Applications Centre, ISRO in Ahmadabad, India. Moumita Dutta was part of Mars Orbiter Mission which aimed to explore into the orbit around Mars. She also received the ISRO Team of Excellence Award for the Mangalyaan.
Mrs Minal Rohit is a senior engineer at the Indian Space Research Organisation, worked with mechanical engineers on the team of Mars Orbiter Mission. She is well known as one of ten women scientists to bring India as first country to orbit Mars with a satellite on the first attempt. She also received Team Excellence Award from the ISRO.
Mrs Nandini Harinath is a rocket scientist at ISRO’s Satellite Centre in Bengaluru. She served as Deputy Operations Director on MOM and has worked on 14 missions over 20 years. She has co-authored a research paper on mission planning, analysis and operations—outline of key components.
Mrs Ritu Karidhal is an Indian scientist working in the ISRO. She has worked for ISRO since 1997. She received ISRO’s young scientist award in 2007. She was also a Deputy Operations Director in Mars orbital mission and Machine Director in Chandrayaan II. Ritu Karidhal is recognized as the Rocket Woman of India.
Mrs Muthayya Vanitha the Chandrayaan-2 project director is the first woman to lead an interplanetary mission at the ISRO. She had previously worked on data operations for the country’s remote sensing satellites and is regarded as an electronics system engineer of great repute. Known especially for her problem solving skills, has the Best Woman Scientist Award of the Astronautical Society of India for the year 2006 to her credit.
Women constitute 48 per cent of the total population of the country. According to belong.com, which conducted a survey on “The gender gap in the tech industry in India’ the Indian technology industry holds merely 26% Women in engineering roles, while the overall representation remains at 34%. In addition, research has indeed suggested that having more female workers will foster innovation, creativity, and productivity in teams and drive more revenue. Thus there is a need to understand the lack of inclusion of women in the Indian tech industry.
Education is the key factor which influences the career opportunities. As per AISHE (All India Survey for Higher Education) report 2018-19 the total enrolment in higher education has been estimated to be 37.4 million with 19.2 million male and 18.2 million female. Female constitute 48.6% of the total enrolment, which is a balanced figure.
|Stream||Total Students||Male %||Female %|
|Engineering & Technology||38.52 lakh||71.1||28.9|
|Medical Science||11.96 lakh||39.4||60.6|
From the above table it is evident that women enrolment in Engineering & Technology is very less when compared to other streams and very imbalanced when compared to men. If the graduate outcome is very less, automatically it leads to less women work force.
Enrolment of students at PG and PhD levels in Engineering and Technology stream.
|PG/ PhD||Total Students||Male %||Female %|
Female enrolment percentage at PG level in Engineering and Technology stream is better than the enrolment in Under Graduate level yet not a balanced figure.
If we look at the enrolment statistics of IITs there is a huge gender imbalance. In 2017 the female enrolment is less than 10% in all IITs together where IIT Kanpur having least as 6.5% females enrolled. To deal with gender parity, Joint Admissions Board (JAB) of IITs, appointed a committee headed by the director of IIT Mandi, Mr Timothy Gonsalves. The committee recommended reserve seats for girl students in IITs to address the issue of gender parity and to create 20% supernumerary seats for girls. The IITs aimed to enrol 20% girl students by 2020. Across 23 IITs in 2018 the female enrolment reached 16% and in 2019 it is 17% with the help of supernumerary seats for girls and other measures.
Challenges for women in Engineering & Technology
Societal Bias is one of the biggest challenges for women to educate and make career in Engineering & Technology field. Stereotyping- many have the perception that men perform better than female in this field. In Indian society education in case of girls, is mostly a family decision rather than individual choice as it involves investment, social consequences and marriage considerations etc. Economic factor is also one of the constraints as engineering degree is more expensive when compared to Arts or Commerce. With limited resources when a parent needs to take decision to invest on male or female child, the parents are generally biased towards male children.
Cultural factors also make women making career and sustaining in engineering field more challenging. Indian women are expected to balance personal and professional aspects with outmost care. They need to manage their family, children, house hold chores, taking care of elders, maintaining social engagements and developing career. Individual woman interests and goals get fused into family welfare, when there is lack of family support especially in case of geographical mobility. Although many women start career in twenties and succeed in handling key roles, the leaky pipeline starts when they quit, because of increasing family responsibilities like pregnancy at the mid level and returning back to same position requires more efforts. This is one factor where employers in private sector think while offering job opportunities and key roles to women.
Security factors also plays vital role in attracting more women in this field. Many parents or family members feel insecure to send their female children to another place for studies or career. Women themselves are sometime feel uncomfortable because of male dominated environment and less or no female members in the team or work place.
Due to lack of awareness & self motivation, some women do not choose engineering field, they feel that they don’t have enough skills, long working hours; distant workplaces will not suit them. Even lack of information about role models is one reason for less attraction in women to technology field.
Despite of these statistics and challenges, there is a positive sign of gradual increase in women employment in Engineering and Technology although not up to the required mark.
Opportunities and Measures to fill Gender gap in Engineering and Technology
Awareness in Society, Sensitize the people about the need of gender inclusion and women empowerment which leads to development of a nation in all spheres. Basing on their interest, skill and capabilities equal opportunities should be created. Parents should be sensitized that investment on daughters’ engineering education is equally important and useful as Son’s education.
Educational institutions in engineering and technology should focus to increase the women enrolment at various level, they should initiate awareness programs to ignite that spark of curiosity and interest and create special quota for women etc. To improve girl enrolment in IITs, supernumerary seats for girls are created.
Self Motivation in Women is a vital factor which can reduce the gender parity in technology workforce. Women should have exposure to various educational opportunities, career awareness and female role models and their real world accomplishments. Parents and teachers should encourage girls in pursuing engineering education and develop willingness to work hard by tapping their interest. Women should believe in their capabilities, skills and develop confidence that they can excel in technology field.
Corporate and companies should have special policy framework, regulatory and management practices to recruit and retain women employees. They should take supportive measures like flexible working hours, medical, health care and family care, maternity leaves, provision to return back to work after maternity, child care centres, security, working environment to be creative & autonomous. All these factors are conducive for dual role so, that women can balance both family and professional life without negative stress. Companies should also ensure that there is no disparity among men and women in salaries, promotions and career advancements to higher cadres. To list few initiatives of corporate, Microsoft India today launched ‘Women in Tech’ in 2014, an initiative aimed at bringing in more women into the Indian IT industry. Through this program, Microsoft aimed to double the women workforce in 5years and will attract and retain women talent in the industry. In 2019 at India Skills Forum IBM announced a three-year programme with a bouquet of CSR initiatives targeted at promoting STEM education for female students and prepare them for “new collar” jobs. In its initial phase, the programme will affect the careers of over 2,00,000 women studying in government institutions across three states — Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Government of India is striving hard to bridge the gap for women in science and technology through various programmes and initiatives. The National Academy of Sciences, India (NASI) launched “Technological empowerment of Women”, a nationwide programme during the year 2012-13 to bring out various issues related women in Science & Technology. As per the NASI report, the percentage of women in high profile institutions at leadership positions in science and technology is still low. In order to ameliorate the situation, the Department of Science and Technology trying to improve the Women participation at multiple level through various new schemes.
KIRAN (Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing) is an initiative of DST which brings all women exclusive schemes under one roof and aims to bring down the gender parity in Science & Technology. KIRAN deal with various crucial issues (break in career primarily due to family responsibilities, self employment, part time career, relocation, etc).
Science & Technology for Women scheme: Focusing women, the scheme is to promote research & development in technology to improve quality of life, to increase employment opportunities for women in rural areas, to encourage the women scientists’ contribution in technology.
Women Technology Parks are technology modulation and training centres where hands on practice is given to rural women to demonstrate livelihood technologies which are specific to their location helping in socio economic development of women through capacity building.
Vigyan Jyoti is a program for girl students to pursue their careers in Science, Engineering and Technology. The programme aims to encourage and inspire girl students to pursue higher education and become self-reliant and also offers exposure to girl students coming from rural background to make them understand how to plan career in the field of science.
To become a developed nation, India should take the path of Technology-led Inclusive sustainable growth. The inclusivity in terms of gender is very important, as when Men and Women equally progress then only Socio-Economic development is possible. To solve the problem of gender parity in Engineering and Technology fields, there should be collaborative efforts from Government, Education institutes, Society and Corporate. Women also need to be more ambitious, upgrade their skills and potential and be motivated to take up more challenging roles in Engineering and Technology Fields.
- All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19 report
- Analysing gender gap in science: Government of India initiatives, Namita Gupta
- UNESCO Open Access Repository. Cracking the Code: Girls’ and Women’s Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), UNESCO, 2017, ISBN-978-92-3-1002335
- A Road Map for women in Science and Technology- A vision document, Inter-Academy Panel on “Women in Science” in India, 2016.
- Women Empowerment through Science and Technology, Vijaya C , Lokeshwari.Na, A.A.Kittura , S. Mohan Kumara and H.S. Chandrika Mohana, 2013, International Journal of Current Engineering and Technology
- Final Report Status of Women in Science among Select Institutions in India : Policy Implications, Society for Socio-Economic Studies and Services (SSESS), Kolkata
- Women in Engineering in India, Sudha Goel, Article in The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences: Annual Review · January 2007