A gender benchmarking study has found that the levels of female representation in the science, technology and innovation (STI) fields in the world’s leading economies were not only “alarmingly low”, but also on the decline.
The gender study mapped the opportunities and obstacles faced by women in science in Brazil, South Africa, India, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, the US and the EU.
It was conducted by Women in Global Science & Technology (Wisat) and the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World and was funded by the Elsevier Foundation.
Results from South Africa demonstrated that, while women had more opportunities available to them than ever before, their participation in the STI workforce remained low.
South Africa ranked fifth overall in comparison to the other countries studied.
Women remained severely under-represented in degree programmes for engineering, physics and computer science.
However, the country demonstrated comparatively high rates of women employed on corporate boards and as science academy members.
Academy of Science of South Africa executive officer Professor Roseanne Diab said mentoring activities would be critical in changing the status quo.
“Despite an enabling policy environment and increased uptake of women in the study of STI – apart from engineering – this has not resulted in an increase in the number of women in the STI workforce and, particularly, in STI leadership in South Africa,” she said.
Wisat lead researcher Sophia Huyer added that most economies were operating under the prevailing paradigm that, should women be afforded greater access to education, they would eventually gain parity with men in these fields.
“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 and is one part of what should be a multidimensional policymaking approach,” she asserted.
Moreover, data showed that women’s parity in the STI fields was positively aligned with multiple empowerment factors, the most influential being representation in the labour force, larger roles in government and politics, access to economic, productive and technological resources, quality healthcare and financial resources.
In addition, countries with government policies that supported childcare, equal pay and gender mainstreaming, were more likely to have equal female representation in most sectors.