One-third of Indian STEM conferences don’t have any girls

A lab technician prepares a sample for a demonstration of smart COVID-19 testing in New Delhi.

Girls make up simply 16.7% of Indian college college members in science, expertise, engineering and drugs.Credit score: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg by way of Getty

Prior to now three years, 35% of all science, expertise, engineering and arithmetic (STEM) conferences held in India featured solely male audio system, in response to a preprint1 posted on the bioRxiv server on 27 October. Feminine researchers in India are outnumbered by their male counterparts in STEM fields, however their under-representation is much more pronounced on the convention circuit.

“I knew it was unhealthy. I simply didn’t know the way unhealthy,” says Shruti Muralidhar, a neuroscientist primarily based in Toronto, Canada.

Muralidhar and Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan, a cell biologist on the College of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, enlisted volunteers to trawl by publicly accessible information from Indian college web sites between June 2020 and December 2021. They discovered that, on common, girls make up simply 16.7% of the STEM college throughout 98 Indian universities and institutes (see ‘Few girls in STEM’). Biology had the very best proportion of girls, at 22.5%, whereas engineering had the bottom, at simply 8.3%. For comparability, a 2019 examine discovered that the public-health schools on the 15 top-ranked universities on the planet for the social sciences and public well being — all in the USA, United Kingdom and Canada — have been composed of between roughly 33% and 54% girls2.

FEW WOMEN IN STEM. Graphic shows women are under-represented at Indian research universities in STEM fields.

The gender disparity was particularly pronounced at India’s elite establishments. The eight highest-ranked establishments within the India Nationwide Institutional Analysis Framework 2022 rankings had fewer feminine college members than common, with a median of round 10%.

The causes of this under-representation are advanced, says a spokesperson for the Tata Institute of Elementary Analysis (TIFR) in Mumbai, India, one of many extremely ranked establishments. They added that the institute has launched initiatives to encourage girls to take up a analysis profession. “TIFR’s hiring insurance policies and analysis processes for scientists and academicians are fully gender-neutral,” they stated.

Leaky pipeline

The low college numbers aren’t due to an absence of women curious about science in secondary college, Ananthanarayanan says. Women often outnumber — and outperform — boys in STEM topics. Even on the undergraduate and postgraduate stage, girls are effectively represented. Based on a 2015 report by the Indian Academy of Sciences, girls accounted for 39.4% of the science and expertise enrolments at Indian universities in 2000–01, and 35% of science PhDs have been awarded to girls.

Ananthanarayanan thinks that societal pressures to begin households draw many ladies away from pursuing careers in STEM. An absence of assist for ladies who stay in academia makes the scenario worse, as does a hostile workforce tradition. “You’re continually having to struggle for belonging,” she says, and there are few feminine friends to show to for assist.

The Indian Institute of Science stated in a press release that it’s “strongly dedicated to offering a protected and inclusive work atmosphere for all girls college members, college students and employees”, and has established a committee for ladies’s fairness and inclusion. Different extremely ranked institutes didn’t reply to Nature’s request for remark.


In June 2020, Muralidhar and Ananthanarayanan launched BiasWatchIndia, an effort to doc and name out the under-representation of girls at conferences in India. By August 2021, they discovered that 54% of conferences had fewer feminine audio system than could be anticipated by the proportion of feminine college members (see ‘Convention failure’). Between August 2021 and March 2023, they discovered that ladies’s participation in some fields had improved, however had turn out to be worse in others. In arithmetic, the share of conferences with no feminine audio system dropped from 80% to 25% between the 2 data-collection phases. However in chemistry, the under-representation of girls elevated from 47% to 83% of conferences.

CONFERENCE FAILURE. Graphic shows under-representation of female speakers in STEM disciplines at conferences in India.

Nidhi Sabharwal, an education-policy researcher on the Heart for Coverage Analysis in Greater Schooling in New Delhi, shouldn’t be shocked by the dearth of illustration. Her personal work has proven that ladies and members of different under-represented teams are much less more likely to be granted permission from their establishments to attend conferences, which stymies their capability to take part in educational networks that garner speaker invites3. “It has a cascading impact,” she says.

Sabharwal says that convention organizers aren’t making an attempt arduous sufficient to succeed in girls. “If you wish to discover skilled lecturers, girls do publish,” and infrequently at increased charges than males, she says.

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