STEM CAREER FOR RUSSIAN WOMEN: A DREAM COME TRUE
Olga Khasbulatova is a doctor of Historical Sciences, professor, head of the government of Ivanovskaya oblast, head of Department of Sociology and Management of Ivanovo State University, member of the Initiative Committee of the STEM Project together with the working group of Eurasian Women’s Forum.
The decrease of percentage of women in education and specialties in fields of natural and exact sciences, IT, engineering and so-called ‘technical’ professions is a basis of the STEM program. The abbreviation stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Statistics shows that Russian women are mostly represented in humanitarian professions, while men prefer technological ones. With the ‘National Technological Initiative’ state program being realized in Russia, it’s important to stimulate the involvement of women in mastering technological professions and science.
- Olga, you are a member of the STEM project committee in Russia. Does this project realize successfully?
- The project of advancing women in STEM-education and STEM-career in Russia is only starting to develop. However, our work to ensure equal rights and opportunities for men and women in professional education has long egalitarian traditions and a good legal basis. Nowadays 79,6% of women and 72,5% of men engaged in economics have got a proper professional degree. Women are engaged in all spheres of socially significant business. They are practically half of working power in Russia. The common rate shows that the principal of gender equality on a labor-market is kept.
- What’s the problem then?
- In a professional sphere the problem is that, having an equal professional degree, women get less salary than men do. Rosstat says that the average salary of Russian women is 28% less than men have (in IT professions the number is 33%). It happens because in our country we historically have professions with prevalence of men’s or women’s work, so-called ‘women’s’ or ‘men’s’ professions with the last ones being more profitable. This issue didn’t appear during the last years, it has a deep history. But now it gets a new meaning because we live in the twenty-first century, having a technology breakthrough. If nothing happens further, than in 10-15 years Russian women will become 40% poorer than men and they will have less opportunities for professional self-realizations. The STEM program is aimed at women’s involvement and high-technological professions. It is a future-aimed project.
The fact is that in this situation the issue with ‘women’ and ‘men’ professions becomes archaic itself, it can’t correspond to the technological initiative. But even nowadays our state, society and family go on keeping this mentality.
- Can you tell us more about the historical roots of the division of professions to ‘women’s’ and ‘men’s’ ones?
- It has a long story. During the second half of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, Russian women’s organizations fought for the ‘weak gender’ right to get higher professional education and have a job in one’s field. After 1917th, women got a legal right for any kinds of professional education. However, the process of getting it was difficult due to the social stereotypes about the role of women, which was considered to be making housework. In 1920s, the government had to make quotas for women entering the higher educational technical institutions.
During the Great Patriotic War women proved that they are able to work in all productive industries.
However, after the war the division of professions to ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ ones became wide-spread. What’s more, since 1940s the less salary level in social industries (compared to the engineering specialties) was legalized officially.
Today this disproportion becomes more or less standard. However, we know that in perspective more than 70% of professions, including the social ones, will be based on maths, IT and technological sciences. If we don’t do anything about it, women will ‘stay out of the line’ of technological progress because now there are only 14% of women among the students of these professions.
- Do you think that women should be engaged in all professions, including the military service?
- I suppose that equal rights are always for good. The members of the STEM committee, me included, hold the opinion that men and women shouldn’t have any difficulties in self-realization in all spheres of living. If woman got a relevant profession, she can serve in the army. We have such women now. If men want to take a leave to take care of their children, they have the right to do so. I think that soon we are going to see that society will accept the diversity of social roles of men and women.
- In your opinion, what is the role of school education in solving the problems we talk about?
- It is a very important theme. Without school help we won’t be able to motivate girls and boys to master high-technological professions. The current task is to organize this work on the basis of a new conception of technological education of kids. Since the 1950s from the fifth grade on shop classes girls learn to cook and knit aprons while boys master turnery. Years go by, the technological progress is happening, but when it comes to shop classes in schools, the time is, like, frozen.
Let me tell you what I think about it. I guess that it’s not school that should teach children how to cook, but family, no matter what the children’s gender is, both boys and girls. If a man can’t cook himself a breakfast, iron a suit or buy food, then he will become a ‘social invalid’. Men represent a half of our society, though. We need the basis of working practices, but we also need working modes which can produce interest in science, IT and robototronics for men and women. Having left school, children need to have basic knowledge and the first experience of working in a technical field. This knowledge and skills determine our country’s future development. The task for schools is to show girls and boys that the world of profession is various and they can improve themselves in any way possible. This is where the role of teachers values most.
- You mentioned that the STEM project is only starting to develop now. Does it have international experience in this sphere?
- Yes, nowadays many developed countries’ governments, educational centres and social organizations pay attention to this problem. Scientists make research about it, teachers take grants to teach exact sciences to girls, finances are produced to summer camps for talented youth, the STEM programs for boys are realized in schools. We gain this experience and we will surely use it in our work.
- Please, share your plans about the realization of the project.
- I have many plans about it, and I’m sure that we are able to complete them because the problem of advancing women in technological professions is supported by the working group of Eurasian Women’s Forum and personally by Galina Karelova, Deputy Chairperson of the Federation Council.
The Russian Federation of Women with University Degree and a number of higher education institutions take part in advancing the idea of the STEM project. The Russian science journal ‘Women in Russian Society’ participates in this propaganda too.
Soon we are about to start a sociological research related to professional orientation of boys and girls who are high-school students on technological professions. With help of sociologists the expertise of school textbooks on the advancing of gender equality in profession propaganda is being made. We plan to have a discussion about this issue with our colleagues from other countries.
We have a lot of work to do. We hope to gain contacts with the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, scientists and social organizations.
We work on a voluntary basis and spend our personal free time on our project. But it relates to well-being of our children and grandchildren and our country’s future. It is our motive to work for.
Agata Korovina, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community
Translated by Irina Nikishina