Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Businesses

Iqra shafi

The economic and developmental significance of participation of women in entrepreneurial activities has attracted great policy interest. Young women are highly under-represented in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) businesses both at the national and international levels. Women owned ventures tend to be concentrated in traditional sectors like retail and lifestyle and service sectors like professional services, hospitality etc. The technology field still remains colossally male-dominated.

This prompts the question, why?

This is primarily due to the effect of “specific identities” associated with both technology and entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur, particularly, a technologist, is often written and spoken about of as it were gender-neutral in general discourses, but are actually located and symbolically associated with the  male universe. Technology Entrepreneurship represents a merging of two supposedly male- spheres. This means that in order to venture and function in this non-traditional field, women technopreneurs have to work harder.

Research also indicates that in Science, Engineering and Technology academia, cultural values, norms and beliefs by and large have persistently been and still continue to be hostile to females.  Women encounter innumerable industry as well as organizational level resistance ranging from age and gender stereotyping to financial discrimination. Also, in addition to being highly competitive, the SET Sector is perceived to be intensely political.

Qualitative studies pertaining to women Technopreneurship indicate that as opposed to “glass ceilings’ encountered in the corporate settings, women technopreneurs experience “labyrinth walls” (meaning broad multi-faceted resistance to women leadership) and “thorny floors” characterized by criticism, non-compliance and sabotage from opposite gender subordinates. Women in Science, Engineering and Technology business, demographically a minority,  frequently experience and encounter the problematic perceptual tendencies associated with Tokenism, i.e., Visibility, Contrast and Assimilation.

In addition to this, working in the technopreneurial field can be very demanding as tech-jobs are many a times considered to be ‘extreme’ in terms of nature of the work, the physical effort required, long working hours and travel time which women cannot easily sustain since they are still chiefly responsible for managing the household, family and children (mounting work-life balance issues). The paucity of female role models, female mentors in SET is yet another deterrent. Career in SET is often rejected due to dearth of information, awareness and lack of role models who offer guidance and a realistic preview of what it means to venture into a male-dominated field.

Lastly, the broader conservative and biased society which continues to discourage women from pursuing Science, Engineering and Technology pursuits in a subtle manner by incessantly  pressing women to conform to their feminine identities can also be faulted and blamed for disproportionate representation of women in the SET businesses.

These reasons can also be attributed to be substantially responsible for the ‘leaky pipeline’’, that is, large number of women entering the sector by taking up jobs in SET and subsequently dropping out.

Nevertheless, many “intentionalist and headstrong” women have despite the odds ventured into the technopreneurial field and made inroads into heavily male-dominated fields such as in the manufacturing, agri-tech, construction industry. These women perceive the technopreneurial field to be highly merit-driven where establishing oneself as a plausible competitor is a must to gain acceptance and recognition.

A prerequisite to facilitate Women Technopreneurship and overcome these challenges and barriers is a renewed Entrepreneurship policy focus which provides support specific to Women Technology business, non- gendered policy discourses and promotion of distinguished and successful female role models via various new technologies and platforms for they can act as a source of inspiration for the young, aspiring, potential women technopreneurs.

  • The author is a JRF in Management and is pursuing her Doctorate in Women Technopreneurship at the Department of Management Studies, University of Kashmir. Contact: [email protected])

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