From being “allowed” into STEM professions out of necessity (i.e, shortage of men doing the job at times of war) during tough times, we have transitioned into a society where women are free to choose their vocation. Today, we are blessed with inspiring women role models who have shown us that it is possible to have a perfect work-life balance. They have transformed the misconceptions and doubts that the public, young girls, their parents and teachers have about who becomes a successful scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician.
Do I personally feel it challenging to be a woman in science? No. Science is the most rewarding profession for anyone who enjoys an intellectual challenge and is willing to put the necessary hours and energy into. I refuse to unfairly credit my experience to having been “luckily”. Rather, the Principal Scientists with whom I have worked, Prof. Maddy Parsonsand Prof. George Santis from King’s College London, and Dr. Pramod Pullarkat from Raman Research Institute, have consciously created a healthy gender-neutral environment and served as role models to strive for excellence.
Are the studies and statistics on gender bias then untrue? Certainly not, I do not contest any of these statistics and condemn discrimination of women, particularly those of colour. In the same breathe, I also stand in solidarity with anyone irrespective of their gender who has been subject to discrimination, which includes LGBTQ+ and men of colour. Besides, these numbers must only serve as an indicator of the gaps in our society and not as an instrument to demoralise young girls from pursing a STEM career.
How do we change the status quo? I largely hold unhealthy work ethics and biased professional environment, which are breeding grounds for gender stereotypes, responsible. These combined with women’s tendencies to self-blame and be overtly modest, have kept us from reaching the same milestones as men. As women, we need to learn that failure is humane and not attribute it to our individual capabilities. We must also quickly undo our habit of equating self-confidence with being boastful. To erase self-doubt is the strongest step one can take in shielding themselves from unwarranted gender bias and stereotyping.
Moreover, I strongly believe that the narrative has changed drastically since the mid-1900s. The problem we face today is the lack of reward and recognition for the meritorious, irrespective of the gender, nationality or race one identifies with. As more and more highly qualified people from diverse backgrounds have stepped into leadership roles, we must now seek to promote equality among equals!
Lastly, let us strive to be the change we want to see in the world. We must not let the numbers, naysayers and misogynists deter us from trying - Be bold for the change that you want!