Number of women in science and tech low in leading economies, study reveals

3 Oct 2012

The number of women in the science, technology and innovation fields are notably low in the world’s leading economies and on the decline in others, and greater access to education is not the sole solution, results of a new study suggest.

National Assessments on Gender and STI: Gender Equality and the Knowledge Society (GEKS) Scorecard – Phase One Results maps the opportunities and obstacles women face in science across the EU, US, Brazil, India, Korea, South Africa, and Indonesia.

Many of these countries are working to provide women with greater access to science and technology education, but the study shows weak outcomes, particularly in the areas of physics, engineering and computer science.

In most countries, women make up fewer than 30pc of students in degree programmes for these subjects. In addition, the number of women actually working in these fields is declining across the board.

Even in countries where more women are studying science and technology, it has not translated into more women in the workplace.

“These economies are operating under the existing paradigm that if we give girls and women greater access to education they will eventually gain parity with men in these fields,” Sophia Huyer, the lead researcher and founding executive director of Women in Global Science & Technology, said in a statement.

“This has dictated our approach to the problem for over a decade and we are still only seeing incremental changes.

“The report indicates that access to education is not a solution in and of itself. It’s only one part of what should be a multi-dimensional policy-making approach. There is no simple solution,” Huyer said.

Factors affecting equality

The data shows that women’s equality in the science, technology and innovation fields is linked to various factors, most notably higher economic status, larger roles in government and politics, access to economic, productive and technological resources, quality healthcare and financial resources.

The study results also indicate that women have greater parity in countries with government policies that support equal pay, healthcare, childcare, and gender mainstreaming.

One of the main study findings is that few countries collect consistent and reliable sex-disaggregated data in these areas, which hinders their ability to create and implement effective policies and programmes.

“We found that the absence of any one of these elements creates a situation of vulnerability for economies that want to be competitively positioned in the knowledge economy,” Huyer says.

“No one country or region is ticking off all the boxes, and some are falling dismally short. This is a tremendous waste of resources. We are wasting resources educating women without following through, and we are missing out on the enormous potential that women represent.”

Woman engineer image via Shutterstock

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic