Google puts the spotlight on gender equity through Women in STEM video series

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Google, in its attempt to promote gender equity, is developing programs and building supporting partners that reach millions of students every year, with a focus on women who are underrepresented in the field today. The search engine giant believes that one way to bring diverse perspectives to the table is to build a strong educational foundation for underrepresented groups in the tech industry.

In line with this thought, Google is strongly encouraging women to excel in Computing and Technology and become active leaders in the field, globally. Women who want to pursue tech as a career do not always find relatable role models or community online due to existing gender disparities in representation, making equitable participation an uphill climb. The lack of community is especially pronounced for women from under-represented backgrounds and communities, such as women from smaller towns of India or those taking up doctoral streams in core sciences like distributed systems or nuclear physics.

The challenge with gender disparity in Computing is often attributed to the pipeline problem--staggeringly dropping numbers of women at various stages. For example, women make up 18% of Computer Science (CS) majors in the U.S., disturbingly down from 37% in 1984. However, the pipeline problem is not shaped similarly across the world.

India: High undergraduate entry, sharp declines in careers

India offers an interesting case study on gender parity in Computing. Indian women represent 45% of CS undergraduate enrollments--a commendable achievement. Yet, when it comes to advanced degrees and career growth, women experience a societal whiplash. Only 30% of CS Ph.D. enrollment is represented by women, and less than 6% of senior Computing professionals are women. To understand these surprising phenomena, a team of Google researchers, along with researchers from the University of Michigan, conducted qualitative research on the various life stages of thirty-nine women in CS in India.

Google’s research shows that women are encouraged, even coerced, into CS undergraduate degrees due to factors like job security, convenient work environments, and marriage prospects. However, the same socio-cultural factors work against women in higher degrees and early-career stages. Societal stigma faced by women with advanced degrees, housework responsibilities, workplace discrimination, lack of paternity leave, and unsafe late night IT shifts all lead to a precipitous exist by women in the CS workforce around the age of 30. The perception that women become ‘over-qualified’ to find a suitable partner causes many families to pressure women to drop out of or decline advanced degrees.

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Relatable role models benefit the entire family

The company’s findings show that Indian women’s participation dwindles in advanced degrees or careers due to the shared view of women’s primary tasks being to raise families. A major challenge here is that successful and relatable role models are hard to find, especially when women are going against the grain. Relatable role models from similar life experiences, backgrounds, languages, and strata serve an important role for the entire family as much as they do for the woman scholar or professional. Role models enable a dialogue with the family and society on women’s independence and career choices, by pointing to successful women from the same community, making career growth seem accessible and non-threatening. The few women that have access to relatable role models consider them to be game changers in their lives, in choosing career paths and convincing families.

Announcing the Women in STEM video series

In this series, Google highlights eminent women scientists across Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to bring forth as role models for young women and their parents across India. The scientists come from various parts of India, with diverse backgrounds. Each of them has an inspiring story about their life experiences and challenges, sharing what led them to a successful path. The video series and short film are part of Google’s efforts to inspire millions of young women across India to pursue their passion for STEM fields.


Towards gender-equitable computing

This initiative is a small step in the complex societal issue of gender parity in Computing and STEM worldwide. A concerted effort is required to address the challenges. Parents and partners have to open up attitudes to women’s gender roles. Funding bodies should provide scholarships at the Masters and Ph.D. levels to enhance women’s financial agency in advanced education. Computing societies should develop a global outlook on STEM diversity. Within Google, the research insights are helping it build a more balanced workforce, through efforts such as promoting relatable role models from underrepresented groups across various levels and building sustainable communities through mentorship and Employee Resource Group programs.

Google hopes that by bringing attention to the societal influence on women's education and careers, it can move towards a fair and equitable field for all.

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