Women are pioneering groundbreaking research all throughout the world. Despite their outstanding findings, women account for only 33.3% of all researchers worldwide, and their work is rarely recognised. Women have received less than 4% of Nobel Prizes in science.
As the world races towards a future beset by climate change and resource shortages, the scientific community must act quickly to recognise and promote the contributions of women scientists.
On this National Science Day, four women in science from Tata Chemicals, in an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, shed light on the state of women in science in India and the role of India Inc. in promoting their participation.
How is the culture at Tata Chemicals for Women in science?
Dr. Priyali Shah – Lead Scientist, Nutrition and Claims, Tata Chemicals Innovation Center, Pune says: “In my view, the culture of Tata Chemicals is very forthcoming, encouraging and gives ample opportunities for women to grow along with finding their way through to develop further in their own aspired visions. Tata Chemicals ensures ample recognition of their female employees, formally as well as informally to support them. It also believes that if given an opportunity, women scientists can progress in leaps and bounds. I, a female scientist at Tata Chemicals, have experienced it personally.”
What is Tata Chemicals doing to encourage more women in science?
Dr Priyali Shah: Senior Leadership at Tata Chemicals maintains a frequent connect with women in science which is very encouraging. Scientific sessions from time to time are organized such as Tech Talks where external scientists/experts address the scientists and share the new areas of research. Women in science are also encouraged with Rewards and Recognition as well as their success stories are shared on various scientific/communication platforms. The Leadership also engages with scientists to discuss projects, hurdles and encourages collaboration for the success of projects “
What are some of the issues you faced throughout the span of your career as a female in science?
Dr Radha Pujari, Research Scientist – Cell Biology, Nutritional Science Department, Tata Chemicals says: “I have faced many issues and challenges but that is not directly linked to gender. While this may not be true in the case of many female scientists, it warrants the need to address challenges related to those at the workplace and family levels. Certain organizational changes along with coaching and career counselling may help in improving resilience in women scientists like we do at Tata Chemicals. With changing times I am certain that more organizations adopt this practice so that the social environment becomes more conducive to women scientists and dissolves the gender bias.”
Many Female scientists have claimed that it is difficult for them to get grants for their research. What has been your experience regarding this?
Dr. Radha Pujari:” I have not faced such issues in my experience. I have availed grants from ICMR and UGC for research work. The government has facilitated funding exclusively for women scientists to attract women researchers. There are also grants to support women who take a break in their careers and do not have regular employment. Such schemes act as a huge support to women scientists to facilitate their entry into mainstream scientific careers.”
In what ways can the scientific community benefit by involving more women in science?
Ms. Sapna Bawsay, Senior Research Executive at Tata Chemicals: “The involvement of women in science is very essential which will bring different strengths to science and technology. A more diverse workforce will reflect a wider variety of experiences and views, and can greatly benefit the scientific enterprise as well as society as a whole. The world is advancing towards sustainability and women will play a pivotal part of that drive, therefore, should be encouraged and empowered through education and work opportunities.”
What are the aspects that require more focus to encourage scientific curiosity among women? How can CSR contribute to it?
Dr. Malathy Venkatesan – Senior Scientist at Innovation Centre of Tata Chemicals Ltd: In the old days, girls were expected to help with household chores as early as they reach the age where they can contribute and, education many times was considered secondary to household work. However, this scenario has drastically changed today, as there are many initiatives by the government and organizations to encourage women in STEM fields. Young girls are increasingly working hard towards their passion for science and finding ways to fulfil their ambitions. Various government schemes and programmes towards this are also opening doors for women in science. However to encourage more women to succeed in the field, requires a holistic approach that includes enabling an ecosystem that goes a long way toward encouraging adoption and, over time, accelerating it.
CSR can play a large role in enabling this, from need-based initiatives to providing scholarships. Organizations can bring about a larger change by creating the required awareness and encouragement towards women in science in underserved locations and communities of India.
Scientists could impart free tutorials to school children in order to supplement their knowledge and support the curriculum with educational aid along with the support of mobile classrooms. Tata Chemicals has initiated mobile classrooms in South India where scientists explain concepts with the aid of visual presentations. Even if one girl child pursues science education in a community, it will motivate many of her contemporaries to follow suit. She can then pass on the knowledge and curiosity to those younger and eager to learn.”
Women, after reaching a certain age, tend to lose the urge to learn something new. This does not concur with the goal to trigger scientific curiosity in them. How can this be tackled?
Dr Malathy Venkatesan: “Science is often perceived as a difficult subject to be pursued and often not considered as a lucrative profession. It is important to deal with such stereotypes and encourage women to understand the power and impact of science in our daily lives. Women mostly are considered as the primary caretakers in a family. Visual programmes with explanations about science in everyday life could be a good beginning for the initiation of interest among women. Advertisements about products could include science-based information such as the importance of minerals in women’s health as shown by some food products. Also, a supplementary certificate course for older women is another great way to drive motivation for women to continue with their pursuit of science at the phase of life when they are relieved of major responsibilities.”
Women are not expected to know or understand science. Do you think this plays a role in the lack of participation of women in STEM fields?
Ms Sapna Bawasay: “I believe it was the thinking a few decades ago, now irrespective of gender if the person is passionate about science and technology they can perform well. There are many examples of the women working in the scientific field who are successful and are now looked up as a role model for the younger generation.”
What message would you like to give to women – young or old – to encourage them to ask questions, seek answers and be generally curious about scientific developments taking place across the world?
Ms Sapna Bawasay: “I feel there is a “why” behind everything. We can always look deeper and more thoroughly at a problem. That curiosity allows us opportunities that we wouldn’t have if we just accepted the results and never asked, “Why?” There are different forums available wherein we can get answers to our queries and one must utilize the same.”
“Curiosity is the first step towards knowledge in any area including science and questions are proof of curiosity and interest in the environment around us. Women are the first teachers in a family,” adds Dr Malathy Venkatesan. “With technological progress in the world, a plethora of knowledge and resources have been made accessible. Young girls need to learn to ask the right questions and take inspiration from the leaders who have achieved against all odds which will encourage them to work towards their path to success,” she continues.