February 25, 2019
Female Leaders Share Experience in Advancing Women’s Participation in STEM

Gender-sensitive policies as well as supportive atmosphere are important to advance women’s participation in STEM.

by Wulan Kusuma Wardhani, Reporter
Issues // Politics and Society
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As a co-owner of Clevio Coder Camp (a company that focuses on digital technology), Fransiska Oetami felt the need to empower women through technology.  It led her to collaborate with the Indonesian Agency for Creative Economy (BEKRAF) to launch “Coding Mum,” a programming training course for housewives in 2016.

"This program focuses on how to empower women who choose to stay at home. By using technology, they can, for instance, set up an online store or work as a freelancer from home,” said Fransiska during “Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM)” discussion held by the Embassy of Ireland earlier this month.  

Clevio also provides programming trainings for children, but many parents still think technology is a male domain.

"We have heard parents who said: ‘This program is good, but it is not for girls,’” She said.  It’s not surprising that girls only make up 30 percent of the total students.

All across the world, women are significantly underrepresented in the STEM fields. According to a study conducted by UNESCO in 14 countries, the probability for female students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in science related fields is 18 percent. The higher the level of education, the lower the number of women’s participation with master’s degree at 8 percent and doctorate at 2 percent. On the other hand, the percentages of male students in science fields are 37 percent, 18 percent and 6 percent for bachelor’s, ,master’s and doctorates degrees respectively. 

Samantha McCrea, the social performance and sustainability partner of ERM (a global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services), recalled the gender gap in the faculty of science where she studied.

 “I studied chemical engineering. At that time, there were only six girls in the classroom”, she said.

Fortunately, things have changed since then, she said: “We have female CEO and leaders. We have included diversity in our policy.”

Diversity policy has also been embedded in the Pulse Lab Jakarta, a data innovation lab, a joint initiative of the United Nations and the Government of Indonesia, to ensure that women are well represented in the institution.  

“More than half of the employees are women. We have women who work as data scientists and engineers. The head office, manager and the deputy are also women,” said Derval Usher, Head of Office at Pulse Lab Jakarta.

Anantya Van Bronckhorst, a co-founder of Thinkweb, a digital agency, explained that technology empowered her to set up her own company.

“I learn all from Google. I am quite happy when I have my own company so that I can learn and identify policies that can be implemented,” she said.

One of the policies that has been applied in her company is allocating 10 percent of worktime for social activities. In 2011, Anantya helped to establish “Girls in Tech Indonesia” and funded it in its early years. This organization is a chapter of Girls in Tech Global, a non-profit organization that seeks to end gender disparity by educating and empowering women who are passionate about technology.  

Supportive atmosphere is important

Support from the closest environment, both colleagues and family, is essential to increase women's participation.

Derval Usher said, as a part of the UN, Pulse Lab employees can use flexible working arrangement.

“As a mother myself, we have to be flexible, giving women the right to breastfeed. It is a very tiring job to raise a small baby. We have very flexible working hours. We are very pro of bringing in mothers (who have taken a career break) back into the workplace,” she said.  

Samantha McCrea emphasized the importance of mentorship in the workplace.

“I have different mentors. I have a female CEO that I look up to and male mentor who gives great advice. Mentors don’t have to be female,” she said.

To Anantya, growing up in a supportive family has helped her to become who she is today: “My mum and dad said, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ Parents should be tech-savvy.  Empowerment starts from home.”

Support from male peers are important too. As the only female among five co-founders of Thinkweb, she said she constantly gets support from her male colleagues to be able to execute her ideas.  

Wulan Kusuma Wardhani is a media worker, a sports (particularly football) aficionado and a feminist. She's also a contributor to womensoccerid.wordpress.com. Follow @csi_wulan on Twitter.