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The responsibility to ensure better inclusion of women

Prof Preeti Aghalayam of IIT-M speaks to DH about greater inclusion of women in STEM fields
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 22:51 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 22:51 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 22:51 IST
Last Updated : 25 February 2023, 22:51 IST

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While at IIT Madras, the women graduating with degrees in all disciplines is on the rise, there are still challenges towards obtaining placements in jobs and careers in areas that are traditionally considered as male domains, says Prof Preeti Aghalayam, Nodal officer, Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions, IIT Madras, in an e-mail interview with DH's Anitha Pailoor.

At a time when Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are encouraging more female students through affirmative action, has similar effort been made to ensure better women representation in faculty positions?

The representation of women in IIT Madras undergraduate programmes has been steadily increasing, and after the implementation of the supernumerary seat allocation program, is at 20 per cent across all disciplines. IIT Madras enjoys reasonable percentages of women in research programmes including PhDs (20-30 per cent depending on the discipline). While the number of women faculty is low at this time, significant attention is being paid to this aspect. Several specific methods to improve the numbers of women faculty at IITM are expected to roll out in this year.

How do you think IITs can become more gender inclusive?

IIT Madras participated in an initiative called GATI (Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions) that was led by the Department of Science & Technology, WISE-KIRAN division. IITM had occasion to examine gender-disaggregated data across its domains. Surveys among women research scholars and faculty were also held. The GATI initiative articulated several opportunities for gender inclusion at IIT Madras. Some of the existing programmes at IITM are described below. A specially developed online course on Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) training is mandatory for all faculty and staff – this is an important first step. IITM also champions the Women Leading IITs initiatives – which are a group of incentives and training programmes for women researchers and faculty. All the efforts towards gender inclusion go alongside efforts to improve the numbers and percentages of women at IITM.

Over the years, have women moved beyond the fields that were traditionally considered as their domain to other departments?

Yes. We have >20 women PhD scholars each in departments of Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, and so on. Even the Ocean Engineering department boasts of 30+ women PhD scholars at this time. Moreover, BTech classes have ~20 per cent women in all disciplines.

What according to you stops women from reaching leadership positions? How can institutes help facilitate the growth of women?

Speaking of academic leadership, a big problem at the moment is that we have very few women in academia, at the professor level. Societal norms and gender roles may be additional road blocks for women in rising to the top. Current leadership has significant responsibility in ensuring better inclusion of women at all levels, starting with various decision-making bodies at the institutions.

Does gender influence placement in certain areas that are considered as 'male domain'?

Yes, definitely. While at IIT Madras, the women graduating with degrees in all disciplines is on the rise, there are still challenges towards obtaining placements in jobs and careers in areas that are traditionally considered as male domains. These can be attributed mostly to existing societal norms and are certainly not that women are not qualified for these.

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Published 25 February 2023, 14:10 IST

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