IWD 2011: Women in Science & Technology – What do institutions need to do?

Prof. Messer-Yaron, fellow of the IEEE, is a world-leading expert in statistical signal processing with applications to source localization, communication and environmental systems. She is President of the Open University in Israel and appeared on the on the “capacity-building on gender mainstreaming: focus on science and technology” panel at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in February.

Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are believed to be under-represented, and the target of increasing the retention and recognition of women scientists and engineers seems to be well within the scope of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

The question is, however, what level of intervention needs to be taken by states and institutions? Based on the international data, as well as on a close analysis of the case of Israel, I suggest the that the proportion of women in STEM is naturally increasing because of changes in the nature of technology in the 21st century toward more human-related aspects. Moreover, the presence of more women in STEM can potentially change technology into an environmentally friendly area, and increase innovation in science.

However, the recognition of women in STEM, as indicated by evidence of a glass ceiling, will not improve without intervention.
This paper presented to the UN consists of three parts: the first provides data on women in STEM employment, beginning with the total share of women researchers in different countries around the globe; continuing with data on their distribution among different STEM fields; and then introducing the “scissors diagram” showing the decreasing participation of women on higher levels, which indicates the existence of a glass ceiling for women in STEM.  In the second part, I focus on data from Israel, which is considered a leader in high-tech. In the final part, I analyze the data and suggest the following main conjectures:

  1. The retention of women in STEM will increase because technology is becoming more interdisciplinary and heavily involved with human related factors. This is mainly because of the green revolution, which forces technology to be more environmentally oriented.
  2. While more and more business leaders realize that gender diversity yields a competitive advantage, I do not anticipate the disappearance of the glass ceiling in STEM employment.
  3. More women in STEM will result in more innovation.

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