Do you know her?

Bangladesh needs more representation of women in STEM fields

By Raida A K Reza

Are you acquainted with any woman engaged in STEM fields? A few names may spring to mind. Now, let us narrow our focus. Do you know any woman involved in the sciences or engineering? The list is likely short.

During my school years, many of my female friends aspired to become scientists, engineers, astronauts, physicists, biologists, etc. When I joined university, the number of female friends pursuing these careers began to drop. After I graduated as an engineer, the number decreased even further, revealing the harsh reality most female engineers face – being one of the very few woman in the workspace. While some may view being the sole female representative in the room as a matter of pride, I consider it a profound sorrow that we are forced to accept this reality.

Despite humanity making technological strides every year, women are still falling behind. According to a 2020 report by the World Bank, when income increases in low-income countries, women in those regions are less likely than men to enroll in tertiary engineering, manufacturing, and construction programs.

Additionally, a report by the World Bank Group, under the Network for Women Power Sector Engineers in South Asia, stated that only 6% of engineering staff at the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) were female. In 2021, the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission had only 17% female scientists and engineers employed, while only 54 out of 227 scientists at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute were women.

Many science and engineering position adverts are accompanied by the condition that “only males are allowed to apply.” With policies like these in place, women are not even given a chance to enter these fields. An engineer friend, now in business development, shared that while engineering presented a fun daily challenge, the greater obstacle was navigating the waters due to gender and the lack of growth opportunities that came with it. If there are insufficient employment prospects for a field, why would women feel compelled to study it?

I am speaking from a place of privilege, discussing friends who enjoy the same privilege. For others, the obstacles begin early, as they associate STEM roles as more “masculine” ones. In a lower socioeconomic context, the focus is not on obtaining a degree but on earning a livelihood.

It astonishes me that, even today, workplaces have not caught up to the idea that gender diversity enhances productivity and team performance, as well as increases opportunities for innovation.

According to studies by the International Labor Organization (ILO), in the next two decades, technological advancements will substantially alter employment, placing women at risk of unemployment due to gender inequality. Women overrepresented in specific occupations are likely to see those occupations become automated. This is a harrowing prediction that highlights the urgency of addressing this issue.

In Bangladesh, whenever the topic of women in STEM is brought up, the discourse usually centers on those who have achieved success in the “T” of STEM. However, it is crucial to also shed light on women in other fields of STEM, particularly those from diverse backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. It is imperative for workplaces to recognize the advantages of having a diverse workforce and take proactive measures to promote gender diversity in higher positions within scientific fields.

We need to hear more about women in all fields of STEM and support women in rising to higher positions within scientific fields. The more we will hear about them, the more we will start breaking barriers and increase engagement. We also need to encourage workplaces to give the space to women to encourage them to pursue STEM fields. With the right opportunity, the future can be more inclusive, and thrive.

Raida A. K. Reza is a resource efficiency specialist and works towards decarbonization. She dreams of a carbon neutral world where effects of climate change have been curbed. She is also the founder of Zero Waste Bangladesh

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