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Insights into Editorial: The role of women in developing a knowledge economy




A rapidly growing India requires a highly skilled technical workforce that is crucial for developing a knowledge economy.

Unfortunately, half the scientific potential of India, women in science—is squandered.

Women make up only 14% of the 280,000 scientists, engineers, and technologists in research and development institutions across the country, according to a recent study.

Today, fewer women apply for or hold key scientific positions as several barriers prevent them from progressing in their careers, in comparison with their male counterparts.

There is widespread frustration experienced by women, who find it difficult if not impossible to fulfil their scientific potential.

Several factors that disadvantage women are not acknowledged widely enough:

  1. Peer-reviewed research reports have indicated that women scientists earn less, have less prestige within departments, have less lab space, are offered inadequate jobs on graduating with science degrees and have more teaching responsibilities.
  2. They also face greater difficulty in receiving grants, and therefore apply for fewer grants in the first place.
  3. It is imperative to tackle these issues with vigour if India is to take its rightful place among developed nations.
  4. Women tend to lack access to informal networks that provide opportunities to work in high-profile projects, which include attending conferences abroad or on-the-job opportunities.
  5. Therefore, they lack the work experience that would enable them to rise up the ranks and provide access to the wide range of developmental models that could build the credibility they need to advance.
  6. Performance assessment is now an integral part of an organization’s performance management systems, implemented as companies move away from the age-old concepts of training and skill development.
  7. Mentors often help build confidence as well as professional identity in protégés and offer access to developmental opportunities, allowing individuals to demonstrate their ability and gain trust.
  8. Mentors keep information channels open and provide feedback on performance in crucial times. It has been noted that almost every successful woman has had a mentor at some time.

Only 7% of female employees: 73% reported leaving because they saw limited opportunities:

  1. Organizations often define success by the willingness of their employee to work for long hours and prioritize work over everything else a “live to work” ideal, generally regarded as more masculine.
  2. When women feel selected or assessed on the basis of group membership rather than their work record and abilities, they experience gender discrimination.
  3. Women feel that an unempathetic culture is one of the most significant barriers to their advancement.
  4. A study highlighted that only 3% of women surveyed regarded family responsibilities as their most serious career obstacle, while 50% cited gender bias.
  5. Only 7% of female employees surveyed reported leaving the organization for family reasons, whereas 73% reported leaving because they saw limited opportunities.
  6. The quit rates for women were significantly lower in organizations that provided better training and promotion opportunities.
  7. Almost a third of women’s employment globally is in in agriculture, including forestry and fishing, but this may exclude self-employed and unpaid family workers.
  8. Yet, differences across countries and regions are striking. The share of women workers in agriculture is only 9.5 per cent in upper-middle-income countries and 2.6 per cent in high-income countries.
  9. While agriculture remains the most important employment sector for women in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.

Benefits of Economic Empowerment:

Women’s economic empowerment is central to realizing women’s rights and gender equality.

  1. Women’s economic empowerment includes women’s ability to participate equally in existing markets;
  2. Their access to and control over productive resources, access to decent work, control over their own time, lives and bodies; and
  3. Increased voice, agency and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels from the household to international institutions.

Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

  1. Particularly Goal 5, to achieve gender equality, and Goal 8, to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all; also Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 2 on food security, Goal 3 on ensuring health and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities.
  2. When more women work, economies grow. Women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes.
  3. For example, increasing the female employment rates in OECD countries to match that of Sweden, could boost GDP by over USD 6 trillion, recognizing, however, that growth does not automatically lead to a reduction in gender-based inequality.

Conversely, it is estimated that gender gaps cost the economy some 15 percent of GDP.

  1. Increasing women’s and girls’ educational attainment contributes to women’s economic empowerment and more inclusive economic growth.
  2. Education, upskilling and re-skilling over the life course especially to keep pace with rapid technological and digital transformations affecting jobs are critical for women’s and girl’s health and wellbeing, as well as their income-generation opportunities and participation in the formal labour market.
  3. Increased educational attainment accounts for about 50 per cent of the economic growth in OECD countries over the past 50 years.
  4. But, for the majority of women, significant gains in education have not translated into better labour market outcomes.
  5. Women’s economic equality is good for business. Companies greatly benefit from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women, which is shown to increase organizational effectiveness and growth.
  6. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management functions score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance.

In recent years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of women with children who participate in the country’s paid workforce.

  1. An organization’s culture has a significant impact on those who work within it.
  2. Unfortunately, not many organizations have revised their work policies or employee expectations to enable women to strike a balance between their work and family responsibilities.
  3. For instance, the internet and telecom revolutions have enabled organizations to introduce employee-friendly policies such as flexi-work hours and work-from-home that have significantly transformed workplace practices.
  4. Women often take on part-time roles that pay less, or are seen as less important, in order to accommodate work and family.
  5. Family commitments can influence the way co-workers, including managers, perceive them.
  6. Even when organizations address these concerns with employee-centric policies, women fear a personal disadvantage or a possible career penalty if they avail them.
  7. The difficulty women have combining paid work with the primary responsibility for dependent care is interpreted by some as a lack of women’s commitment to paid work.

We must mobilize all our resources, if India aims to be a $5 trillion economy.

The gender imbalance in science and technology is a looming challenge and threatens to weaken our country’s competitive economic position.


Science needs the best scientists, and a knowledge economy needs a gender-balanced workforce.

This can only be attained by realizing the full potential of women. Apart from being wasteful and unjust, the under-representation of women in science threatens the goal of achieving excellence in the field.

To tackle this, we must set an ambitious target of reaching out to 1 million young girls each year, and encourage them to take up science and make a difference.

A national convention of women in science must be held annually, with a specific focus on discussing and building general awareness around the major challenges that women face.

By addressing these concerns, we can empower and motivate more women to join scientific fields, unlock India’s full potential, and develop the country to become a knowledge economy.