‘Leading economies’: Alarmingly low numbers of women in science & technology

For the first time, a study maps the opportunities and obstacles women face in developing their careers in science across the US, the EU, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea and Indonesia. It was conducted by experts in international gender, science and technology from ‘Women in Global Science & Technology’ and the ‘Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World’, and funded by the Elsevier Foundation. The researchers found that numbers of women in the science, technology and innovation fields are not only alarmingly low in the world’s leading economies, but are actually even declining like in the United States.
Despite efforts by many of these countries to facilitate better access for women to science and technology education, research reveals a severe under-representation of women in degree programs, particularly in the areas of engineering, physics and computer science – the number is below 30% in most countries examined. Moreover, even in countries where the numbers of female students in science and technology have increased, this has not translated into more women in the ICT/MINT workplace. In fact, the numbers of women actually working in these fields are declining across the board.
“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”, comments the lead researcher, Sophia Huyer. The report recommends to turn what has dictated the common approach for over a decade into one part of a more comprehensive, multi-dimensional policy framework. For women’s parity in those fields is tied to multiple factors: The most influential determinants 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 health and childcare, equal pay, and gender mainstreaming.
One more key finding is that few countries collect consistent and reliable sex-disaggregated data in all of these areas, which inhibits their ability to design and implement effective policies and programmes. Researchers state that the absence of any one of these elements creates a situation of vulnerability of those economies that want to be competitively positioned in the global knowledge economy. To that end, countries and societies seem to be carelessly wasting resources by educating women without following through and are missing out on the enormous female potential that is available.