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  • She Says

Three Women In Science Talk About Gender Stereotypes And Lack Of Representation In The Field

  • IWB Post
  •  February 28, 2018

Subjects and professions should not be gendered and women deserve equal opportunities and support to pursue whatever career they want to.

This simple concept is, however, quite difficult to execute in real life, which is why we see fewer women in science at all levels. In an attempt to understand why this happens and how we can motivate more young women to sustain their interest in fields related to science, we decided to talk to the people who know this best – women who are currently working in science. They had several inspirational anecdotes and insights to share that could help little girls everywhere realise that they can also become doctors, engineer, scientists, and whatever else they want. Their gender is no bar.

HOW THEY GOT INTERESTED IN SCIENCE

Dr. Monisha Banerjee, the head of Clinical Molecular Genetics at Lilac Insights in Navi Mumbai had been interested in science since she was in school. She told us, “During my days, we didn’t have too much exposure to the scientific world. So I had developed the habit of reading books about the human body and I got into biosciences. I did my BSc in Chemistry, after which, that time we didn’t have too much exposure so we went by any stream which came our way, so out of the blue I joined my BMLT certification course (Medical Laboratory Technology) and that’s where things changed. That’s where I got more into learning about pathological investigations and biochemistry. We could not get a chance for medicine, so this was an addendum, we had a parallel way to look at medicine. Then I thought I could get into one of the diagnostic divisions because we can’t be doctors but at least somewhere we could help out doctors in coming to a diagnosis. I’ve been working in the same field for 30 years.”

Unlike several women, she had full support from her parents in her endeavour. “My parents were very supportive. They couldn’t do things, so they were quite overwhelmed when I wanted to get into science. My mentor was Mr. PK Sukumaran, and though he wasn’t even a graduate at the time, those days we were allowed to get into multidisciplinary fields and that’s where he coached me. He was also a huge support.” Her son is in mass media because he finds advertising and digital marketing fascinating but her daughter, who is in Class VIII right now, is interested in science and she hopes that she would take it forward.

Manjula Yadav, an Education Officer for the Nehru Science Center, credits her school teachers for imbibing in her the spirit of science. “I’ve always been interested in science. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in it.” She calls herself the “Science Communicator” and helps with the popularization of science among students.

FACING DISCRIMINATION AT THE WORKPLACE BECAUSE OF GENDER

Dr. Banerjee said that she was lucky to not have faced any gender-based discrimination, except for a little incident in the beginning of her career. “When I was working in the pathology laboratories they had this feeling that girls may not take night or evening shifts so initially they preferred male candidates. But eventually my coach there, they were quite protective, they asked us to take these shifts and see if we can manage it and we could, so that’s how they felt that girls are equally capable of working in this field.”

When asked the one thing that can help women in science get more visibility, Dr. Banerjee said that lack of funding is a major issue they often face. “When I worked in smaller hospitals, where we had more exposure to clinical material of patients, where I had to do my research, serve the community, somewhere I felt that in some organizations, due to lack of funding we could not take the research forward.”

Manjula said, “When I joined service as a Science Communicator, there weren’t many women in the field. But now I see things are gradually changing for the positive. Often for people, it is difficult to accept women in the field of science. Earlier people who saw me handle nitrogen or some other chemical would be amazed. Because they usually saw a man doing that. That isn’t the case anymore.”

HOW TO GET MORE GIRLS INTO SCIENCE AT SCHOOL LEVEL

Dr Banerjee told us, “Whether you look at any boards, especially the CBSE and the ICSE, they have the option of providing little more insights. I am surprised because my daughter is state board and I see a lot of changes there as well, with the multimedia they’re using. Once they know at the high school level that there are girls who are interested in science if we can provide them with an additional hour’s insight or a little more animated exposure to the world. It’s not just textbooks or YouTube that can take them forward. And if these girls happen to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds, we can make way for them and help them financially. I think half of us can’t take our dreams forward, be it science be it anything else, because we are unable to afford it.”

But the problems don’t end at the school level. Rita Gupta, Associate Professor of Chemistry in Government College of Dausa, is aware that in her class, there are fewer girls. She finds that the reason for this disparity is the fear that parents feel for the safety of their daughters. “They are scared, and it’s the situation the society is in right now that feeds their fear. They are afraid for her safety when she goes out. Is that a gender stereotype? Maybe, but it’s the society we need to clean before we blame these parents,” she told us.

And this number decreases even further as the few girls who do enter the field of science have too many responsibilities to give proper attention to their careers. “Many leave their jobs, their hard-earned titles and degrees lay in the dust as they handle the responsibilities of marriage, children, and family. Swamped from every direction and then left alone to tackle it all, you can’t expect them to build their career.”

But she is hopeful about the present generation of women, as they have what women earlier lacked. “Confidence, lots and lots of confidence. Today even a lone woman working in a team of male members has the mettle to disregard the gender discrimination and wow them with her intellect. I don’t think they need any outside help for their empowerment. After all, they are wonderfully well equipped with their stash of never-ending willpower to need anyone else’s support.”

Manjula believes the way forward is for both women and men of science to strive towards true equality. One where the advancement of science takes precedence over who brings it about. “Diversion of gender in science education begins to happen during college. When women are asked to take up professional courses and often advised against taking up science.” To ensure that more women take up science, she recommends that better infrastructure and increased education be provided. “Things are certainly improving. Today we have collectives and groups of women scientists in India that talk about women in science. This is, I believe, going to have a very positive impact in the years to come. I am very hopeful for the future of science in India.”

 

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