Private firms employ more women in R&D: Study

Study says they perform better than government-funded major scientific agencies in doing so

India’s private sector research companies appear to employ a larger proportion of women in core research and development activities than government-funded major scientific agencies do, according to data in the Science and Technology Indicators (STI), 2018, a periodic compendium of the state of scientific research in India, released this month.

Of the 20,351 women employed in private R&D companies, 15,011 — or about three in four — were involved in “R&D activities” and the rest in “auxiliary or administrative activities”.

However, of the 23,008 women in “major scientific agencies”, fewer than half — or 10,138 — were in the same ‘R&D activities’ category.

The STI is prepared by a division of the Department of Science Technology, the National Science and Technology Management Information System, and is based on data provided by a range of scientific establishments across the country.

A scientist told The Hindu that, on the whole, private sector companies had a greater commitment to ensuring that women scientists were fairly represented in recruitment, promotions and appraisal processes than in many scientific organisations. “Managers have to answer why women in their teams are not promoted or why, for instance, are women dropping out of their workforces,” said the person who is now in a private research organisation but was formerly an academic in a government-funded institution. She declined to be identified citing company restrictions. “However, in several government scientific organisations this is just not a priority,” she said.

Historical trend

The 2018 indicators reiterate the historic trend of India’s scientists being overwhelmingly men. For every one of the 15,011 women counted earlier, there are six male scientists in private sector R&D establishments, or about 92,000. However that proportion improves to about one in four in major scientific agencies where there are 43,753 male scientists in ‘R&D’ for the 10,138 women equivalent.

Overall, India had 341,818 scientists in R&D with nearly 2,03,759 employed by government institutions or in the higher education sector. The bulk of scientists (in private and publicly funded organisations included) were in ‘Engineering Technology’ (1,21,531) followed by the Medical Sciences (32,143) and Natural Sciences (32,092).

Earlier too, inquiries have been launched by independent commissions as well as the NITI Aayog to ascertain causes for the inadequate representation of women scientists. “The large drop in the number of women between the doctoral and professional stages appears to be in part due to social pressure on women to have a family which is seen as incompatible with a professional career. There are also patriarchal attitudes in hiring practices, so many women are discriminated against at this stage as well, with administrators deciding that women ‘should’ be opting for family over a career,” according to a detailed investigation by Rohini Godbole of the Indian Institute of Science, and Ramakrishna Ramaswamy of Jawaharlal Nehru University, for the Indian Academy of Sciences.

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