New Gender Benchmarking Study: India Is Making Slow Progress in Advancing Women in S&T

Delhi, March 7, 2013 – In the first gender benchmarking study of its kind, researchers have found that numbers of women in the science, technology and innovation fields are alarmingly low in the world’s leading economies, and are actually on the decline in many, including the United States. India’s low overall ranking in the study shows slow progress despite women friendly policies which have been in place for a number of years.

The full gender benchmarking study maps the opportunities and obstacles faced by women in science in Brazil, South Africa, India, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, the US, the EU. It was conducted by experts in international gender, science and technology issues from Women in Global Science & Technology (WISAT) and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), and funded by the Elsevier Foundation. The lead research was conducted by Dr. Sophia Huyer, founding Executive Director of WISAT and Dr. Nancy Hafkin, Senior Associate of WISAT.

India ranks the lowest overall of the countries in this study — Brazil, South Africa, India, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, the US, and the EU – including low rankings in economic status, access to resources, knowledge economy, and health. Less than 15% of women have access to their own bank account, and females hold less than a third of available administrative and managerial positions. While India’s enabling policy environment, which has been in place for many years, is very positive, implementation and funding needs to increase substantially before women can equally benefit from the innovation advantage. At the same time there are definite signs of progress, India has achieved universal primary education enrollment for example. Ensuring that women in the Indian population are enabled and supported to improve their health, access to resources and opportunities, and develop capacity to contribute to India’s knowledge society is one obvious and immediate strategy to make up some of the gap.

Despite efforts made by the countries studied to give women greater access to science and technology education, research shows negative results, particularly in the areas of engineering, physics and computer science. Women remain severely under-represented in degree programs for these fields—less than 30% in most countries. Female enrollments in the bio and health sciences in India are very high, at 80%, but the numbers drop drastically in engineering and physics enrollments to 35%. In addition, the numbers of women actually working in these fields are declining across the board – only 12% of the S&E workforce in India was female in 2010. Even in countries where the numbers of women studying science and technology have increased, it has not translated into more women in the workplace. India does see a high representation of females in management in all sectors at 42%, but less than 5% representation of females on corporate boards.

“These economies are operating under the existing paradigm that if we give girls and women greater access to education they will eventually gain parity with men in these fields,” states Sophia Huyer, the lead researcher and founding executive director of Women in Global Science & Technology. “This has dictated our approach to the problem for over a decade and we are still only seeing incremental changes. The report indicates that access to education is not a solution in and of itself. It’s only one part of what should be a multi-dimensional policymaking approach. There is no simple solution.”

The data show that women’s parity in the science, technology and innovation fields is tied to multiple empowerment factors, with the most influential being higher economic status, larger roles in government and politics, access to economic, productive and technological resources, quality healthcare and financial resources. Findings also show that women have greater parity in countries with government policies that support childcare, equal pay, and gender mainstreaming. One of the main findings is that few countries collect consistent and reliable sex-disaggregated data in all of these areas, which inhibits their ability to implement effective supporting policies and programs.

“We found that the absence of any one of these elements creates a situation of vulnerability for economies that want to be competitively positioned in the knowledge economy,” Huyer says. “No one country or region is ticking off all the boxes, and some are falling dismally short. This is a tremendous waste of resources. We are wasting resources educating women without following through, and we are missing out on the enormous potential that women represent.”

“This broad and ambitious assessment is a critical starting point for measuring the participation of women and girls in science, technology and innovation in emerging and developing worlds,” said David Ruth, Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundation, “This study identifies key areas of national strength and weakness, and we hope it will help form the basis of evidence-based policy making and aid going forward.”