Sunday, 2 March 2014


On the occasion of National Science Day (28th February), I would like to share with you our research findings came out few years back from a study entitled “STATUS OF WOMEN SCIENTISTS IN S&T INSTITUTIONS IN DELHI” carried out by Society for Environment & Development (SED) in association with National Commission for Women (NCW), Delhi. Following are the summary of the project.

There are several dimensions to consider with regard to issues about Indian women in science, first, they are professionals in the academy, and as such their lives and work are affected by the overall environment, ethos, and policies in the Indian higher education system. Second, by virtue of the fact that they are women, they face situations that are quite distinctive and related to their role and status in the society. Again, since we are considering very male-dominated disciplines in particular, specific factors, such as the peculiar nature of the disciplines come into play.

The research study has tried to incorporate many of the basic factors, which initiates naturalistic inquiry. As stated earlier, some of the significance of such an inquiry is a natural setting, the human instrument for data gathering, qualitative methods, purposive sampling and emergent design. To elaborate: assuming that reality cannot be understood in isolation, the research has been carried out in the natural setting or context of the entity, data have been gathered primarily through personal interviews and observations, and through questionnaire methods both by direct interviews, by post and by E. mails. 

It is now recognized by all modern societies that education and career is not only the right of women, but also a key factor that contributes to the economic and social development of country. Women scientists focusing upon their lives as university academics, as researchers in the hard sciences and as women. The overarching research question addressed here may be stated as follows: what patterns and difference emerge in the perceptions and attitudes of academic women scientists toward themselves as women in science; their career routes; their relationships with colleagues-male and female; their research interests, communication strategies and linkages: the manner in which their family life intersects with their careers; and the discipline of science and its value? What emerge from this is a comprehensive description of the lives and careers of individual women who struggle in a male-dominated workplace that marginalizes them.

The following are salient observations:
·         The number of women scientist coming in for this profession shows only negligent increase.
·         A total of 28 R&D/S&T institutions are in the study. This includes a combination of Central Govt. Institutions, Universities, Deemed universities, corporate, NGO’s etc.
·         The total samples are 280 women scientists working in various institutes.
·         68% of women scientists are in the age group of 30-50 years.
·         Maximum number is in life sciences while minimum in genetics & agricultural economics.
·         Out of total 280 women scientists 206 are married and most of them are married to similar profession. 127 out of 206 got married by arranged manner.
·         Religion-wise out of 280 women scientists, 259 are Hindu, 3 Muslim and only 1 Christian.
·         Caste-wise very poor representation of SC, ST and OBC category.
·         84% women scientists has done their schooling from city while only 1% from the villages.
·         Majority has become scientist by default as out of 280 respondent, 65 never planned to become scientist while 128 planned at college/university level, only 79 has planned at school level.
·         59% of women scientist has not visited abroad.

As is readily appreciated the issue of family commitments, particularly child rearing is perceived as the foremost and major barrier and as such has received considerable attention. However, gradually an appreciation has evolved of the more subtle factors that influence the issue. Among these are certain preconceived notions and stereotyping that is instrumental in discouraging young women from taking up a career in science. Even for women in professional scientific careers, some attitudes and values of the traditional male bastion retard progress. We would like to enumerate the mind-sets that unconsciously discriminate against women and are potential barriers to the entry and progress of women in the sciences.  

First and most common is the assumption that one has to work long hours to demonstrate commitment. Women who cannot or do not spend as much time in their work places as their male colleagues are automatically regarded as less dedicated. This assumption however is not always true. It is now realized that women tend to give better 'quality time' to their work that compensates for their shorter working hours. Their time management in terms of output is   believed to be better than men.  

Secondly, very prevalent is the preconceived notion that family commitments are incompatible with scientific competence. Single mindedness, that is absorption in science to the exclusion of all else in life is perceived as an essential quality for a successful scientist. In our opinion it is not single mindedness but perseverance and dedication that are required in a good scientist.  

Thirdly, in science as in other areas, men tend to regard assertiveness as a quality essential for leadership. Strong cultural biases tend to make women less assertive than men, which automatically excludes them from leadership positions. But is assertiveness really an essential quality for a leader. In our opinion it is not, at least in science. What is needed is not assertiveness, but thoughtfulness, tolerance and nurturing to realize fully the potential of ones team.  

To many women professionals, this sounds horribly familiar. In some professions, women have a choice. They can leave and find other work. They can work independently, without joining an organisation. In science, this is difficult. And in India, it is even more difficult as most scientific research organisations are government-run. They provide security, but they also leave you with little space to negotiate, to fight for a change of culture, to innovate. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog on the National Science Day. There is urgent need for more women in R&D institutions to boost research as India is way behind in innovation and new R&D.