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Biochemist Sandhya Visweswariah Talks About Gender Gap In Indian Science And How To Bridge It

  • IWB Post
  •  February 1, 2019

Sandhya Visweswariah is a prominent figure in Indian science, who is most popularly known for discovering gut disease causing mutations, for which she won an international acclaim.  

She was born in the UK, moved to Zambia at 16 where her interest in the science field bloomed for the first time. Even though she travelled places, she always wanted to return to India. “I could have taken up medicine without any effort in Zambia, but I wanted to come to India. But in India, medical schools would not accept my international report cards. They required Indian grading systems, she recalled with Firstpost.

Sandhya then moved to Hyderabad to graduate in science at Osmania University, where she earned a gold medal in botany. She credits IIT Kanpur for introducing her to prospects of science. She then majored in Biochemistry and went on to pursue Ph.D. at IISc, which she calls “the best place to do scientific research in the country”.

In the year 1993, Sandhya joined IISc’s biochemistry department and her research journey began since then. And, the most important discovery made by Sandhya and team in gut biology was a congenital disease of watery diarrhoea due to mutations found in the receptor.

After spending years in the field and making important discoveries, Sandhya feels that even in the year 2018, the field isn’t gender-equal. A change of mindset is required to bring a change in the scenario.

Sandhya feels that inclusion of women in the committee should be made mandatory as the male-dominated leadership brings in “unconscious bias”. “All things being equal, I think they should positively select a woman. That may not be happening,” she said. Citing reason for men still holding more leadership roles, she said their aggressive streak should be given credits to.

She stated, “Generally, men are a little more aggressive. For example, when it comes to awards or recognition, they will go and tell a senior person: nominate me. I personally cannot and have never done that.”

On abolishing gender-gap and being vocal about it, Sandhya said, the measures should be taken within the committee. She shared, “If you start making a big noise, you are considered a feminist and then you become strident and they avoid you. They don’t want to talk to you after that, right? It’s very difficult.”

“It isn’t enough to have just one woman. In a committee of 10 people, you must have at least three, only then will change happen,” she added as she mentioned that we need to take cues from the European Molecular Biology Organisation, who insists on having 30 percent women in every scientific meeting they organise.

She explained, “If you happen to be a member of an organising committee, you must try and ensure [that more women are included].” Sandhya also shared that she had tried to implement this initiative at IISc when she chaired the Women’s Cell and Women in Science panel at her institute.

Sandhya, recently, lobbied a policy related to new mothers. IISc used to pause the tenure clock of women researchers by one year for every child she gave birth to. With the change in the policy, women faculties at IISc, who are new mothers, can now apply for tenure on the backs of their publications in the last six years, or seven years in case they had two children, rather than at the end of five years like their male colleagues.

Sandhya explained, “I also ensured that when they do get tenured, it is back-effected [with respect to payrise and position], so it is not that you are one year behind the male colleague. Just because you give her tenure later don’t put her one year behind a male colleague who joined at the same time.”

H/T: Firstpost

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