The other day, there was an interesting article in the Hindu on the subject of why women scientists drop out. The article quoted two research papers, which tried to analyze why there were so few women scientists at the highest levels.
The first is the one by Kanta Rani and Rajesh Luthra of CSIR’s human resources group. They have analysed the number of research grants in biology, given by CSIR during the period 2004-2008, and asked how many of these went to women.
Their paper shows that, surprisingly enough, men and women are equally successful (39 per cent success among men and 41 per cent among women) in winning grants from the CSIR (and likely from other agencies as well).
Okay, I don’t know why it should be surprising that men and women were equally successful in getting grants. But moving past that, clearly whatever is hampering women scientists, it is neither ability nor funding.
(The paper did find that women in universities were more successful than those in R&D centres at getting funding, but doesn’t say if there is a similar trend among men, so I cannot conclude anything from that).
The second paper, “Beyond family and societal attitude to retain women in science,” by Drs. Anitha Kurup and R. Maithreyi of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, surveyed 568 women scientists. I am amazed (and somewhat appalled) not at their research but at the conclusions they chose to draw.
Most of these 568 were married (86 per cent of WIR, 88 per cent of WNR and 92 per cent of WNW). Yet a small number of women in research (14 per cent) preferred to remain single to keep their career on track (compare this with the 2.5 per cent of men in research, who were single). This suggests that a majority of women scientists are able to balance both their career and family responsibility.
So, er, one in seven women think they can only advance in their careers if they remain single, and that suggests that most women are able to balance career and family responsibility? Really? I would think rather that it shows the opposite – that women find that marriage (and children) affect their career so much that large numbers of them would rather stay single. Clearly, it is not an issue of the women’s own commitment, obviously some of them are so committed that they prefer to remain single rather than damage their careers. Given the social stigma that single women still face in India, this is quite a sacrifice. Clearly, there is something institutional going on here that the women are not able to tackle.
Here is more:
Another fact emerged. Although nuclear family and lack of childcare facilities may have affected WNW from continuing in science, they reported difficulties in finding jobs, institutions or advisors. This difficulty was more with the WNW group than with WIR or WNR.
So, it’s not just lack of childcare facilities, but there is outright discrimination against women that makes finding jobs or even advisors “difficult”. The study doesn’t probe into why this is the case, and whether men with similar qualifications face the same difficulties.
So now what have we found – it’s not women’s ability or commitment, but opportunities available to them that make the difference. You would think the study would talk about changing attitudes, right?
Wrong. All that the study suggests, at the end of this, is that work timings should be made more flexible.
I am all in favor of flexible work timings, I am sure many men and women will find them helpful. But aren’t we asking for too little here? Shouldn’t women scientists in India be more aggressive in demanding equal treatment ? If a woman scientist cannot even find an advisor willing to take her on, or a job where she can prove herself, we have a very serious problem that merely changing office timings will not solve.
Neither is it just the lack of childcare facilities that are holding back women. As far as I can see, even the tip of the iceberg that these studies reveal shows that we need a whole new attitudinal change towards women scientists in India. Why is nobody talking about this?
It’s when I read studies like these that I really wish we had class action lawsuits in India.