Breaking the bias as a woman in STEM

Let’s take a moment to remember a deeply inspiring, influential woman in science who challenged the stereotypes and built a bigger table to seat all of us today, proudly #BreakingTheBias.
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash; women holding hands

Every year, the world comes around to celebrate the international women’s day in March, where a huge wholesome community celebrate the successes and breakthroughs of women around the globe. Even when that particular day is over and done with, this also brings about a round of freshly motivated discussions and renewed efforts for the upliftment of countless women dwelling in unfortunate and underprivileged backgrounds. It is disheartening to observe brilliant women struggle with a system that doesn’t allow them to fully and freely be who and what they aspire to. Women can be subject to a plethora of judgement and lingering bias. This is especially prevalent in the fields of science and technology, a traditionally ‘masculine’ field. The number of women actively participating in the research and development of up-and-coming technological marvel is incredibly small when compared to the number of men involved in similar fields.

Through this blog, I would like to shine a light on one of the highly qualified, and sadly less talked about, woman pioneer of STEM fields who refused to let the biasness break her resolve. I credit her for having the courage to walk alone upon an uncharted path in an alien ‘male’ world, making the same less thorny and more accepting to the following generations of women. The woman, whom I deeply admire and idolise is the celebrated Indian businesswoman   , educator, author and philanthropist, Dr Sudha Murty who is also the chairperson of the Infosys foundation . She is a well-known global figure, with a long list of achievements and accolades stringing behind her name, staunchly refusing to give into the stereotypes. 

Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash; woman speaking in a conferenceAs a young woman, born in the 1950s India, Dr Murty’s options for education and a decent job were limited. She had to compromise her daily routine, adopt a special uniform as the only female graduate engineering student at her university, and was not allowed to enter the public (read ‘male’) recreational spaces in fear of distracting the ‘true’ scientists. Despite all these stifling restrictions, achieved highest marks  in all her classes and receive two gold medals for her academic achievements from the Indian state government and the Indian Institute of Engineers. She then applied for a job at the one of the biggest technological industries in India and had the gall to send a postcard to the then chairman, honorable J.R.D. Tata, complaining about the sexist nature of a job advertisement at TELCO which marked the post as “male only”. She was offered a special interview, and promptly the job in the light of her academic achievements and became the first employed woman engineer of India, all while firmly nurturing her love for performing arts and classical literature, a decidedly ‘feminine’ field in the eyes of academic society. 

Growing up, I have observed the different ways a female researcher, scientist, doctor, or technician is portrayed in our society. According to my own observations, there seems to be an underlying assumption that a woman cannot be both feminine and expected to do the best in technical or research-oriented fields.    This has been bashed time and again, perhaps most notably by the Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr credited for forming the basis of today’s wireless communication systems. The actresses Lisa Kudrow and Mayim Bialik are two other famous personalities who challenge the notion of a STEM being a notoriously masculine field by being successful actors with an active research background in biology and neuroscience.   Dr. Murty herself never identified with the typical image of a female scientist or a billionaire businesswoman. Unfailingly polite and humble, she stands tall in her field by simply having the courage to challenge biasness. 

Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash; woman holding a pink folderWe still have a long way to go when it comes to eliminating bias at workplaces. As a graduate student in STEM, I observe it every day. From a lack of representation, the uneven distribution of grants, to the unfair citing statistics for women researchers’ papers, it is quite apparent that we need a lot of work done.  But these hurdles make me more determined to succeed. I remember the women before me, changing the world steadily with their efforts. I see the fruits of their labor shaping our future and I want nothing more than being another contributor. I believe that we, the women, are strong and courageous and striving to become independent. I believe that we are kind and humble and have the potential to bring about phenomenal changes in our world. And every time I read an article about the achievements of women in STEM, my resolve gets stronger.

Take the time to look around yourself, celebrate the differences and embrace your choices. It took hundreds of women learning to crawl before us to enable our generation to walk freely on this path. And I am positive that every single step we take today, enables the future generations to run through and break the ridiculous notions of gender stereotypes. 



Author:
Smita

Page manager Published: Tue 22 Mar 2022.