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Skewed gender ratio in engineering a prime reason for fewer women taking CAT every year

Integrated management degrees that allow students to join a programme after class 12 can help in dodging the gender ratio problem in engineering courses, say experts

In CAT 2021, a total of 1.24 lakh men took the exam as compared to only 66, 850 women. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh/Representational Image)

Every year, the registration numbers for Common Admission Test (CAT) suggest that women applying for the management entrance exam are half of the total registrations by male applicants. In CAT 2021, a total of 1.24 lakh men took the exam as compared to only 66, 850 women. Similarly in 2019, a total of 2.44 lakh candidates applied for CAT, of which over 1.6 lakh were male and only 86,000 were female.

More male aspirants for management entrance exam

MP Ram Mohan, professor at IIM Ahmedabad and CAT2021 Convenor, believes that there could be several reasons why male candidates outnumber females writing CAT but the primary reason includes the academic background of the test-takers.

“Though it requires a detailed analysis of behaviour and educational interest, out of many, one primary reason could be that majority of the CAT applications and MBA candidates continue to be from engineering disciplines. I am not commenting on the merits and demerits of disciplines, but, as we know male candidates outnumber females in engineering colleges,” Professor Ram said.

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Engineering continues to be male-dominated

The gender disparity is evident in the registration data for the engineering entrance exam. The National Testing Agency (NTA) had received 6.5 lakh registrations for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) Main February 2021 session. However, there was a difference of more than 2.5 lakh between the male and female registrations. More boys than double of girls appeared for the engineering entrance exam.

Similarly, 75 per cent of the total candidates who registered for the JEE Advanced 2021 – entrance exam for admission in IITs – were male. Only 34,530 of the total 1, 41,699 applicants were female.

Professor V Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi, agrees that the skewed gender ratio in CAT could be because of the engineering classes being dominated by boys.

“More people from engineering than any other discipline apply for CAT and shift gears in their careers with an MBA. Hence, the gender disparity in engineering may be impacting the CAT registrations. The general understanding of engineering is still limited to tough men with helmets working on sites or operating heavy machinery. The perception is gradually changing but still requires more awareness,” Rao said. IIT Delhi will soon launch an awareness programme for girls studying in class 10 and above to make them familiar with career options in the field of engineering.

Year-wise registration data Male  Female  Total 
CAT 2021 (appeared) 1,24.150 66,850 1.91 lakh
CAT 2020 1, 47,699 80,135 2,27, 835
CAT 2019 1,58,190 85, 810 2.44 lakh
JEE Main (Feb) 2021 454852 197771 652627
JEE Advanced 2021 1,07,179 34,520 1,41,699
NEET-UG 2021 7,10,979 9,03,782 16,14,777
NEET-UG 2020 7,16,586 8,80,843 15,97,435

Role of societal perception and access to coaching

It is not just about the perception of a sector, but also about what it takes to break the glass ceiling, says Himanshu Rai, director of IIM Indore. It may appear to be an individual household issue but “it is a serious problem at the macro-level”.

“Societal pressure or perception is not limited to restricting girls from entering a particular sector, but not putting them through what it takes to crack an entrance exam. Access to coaching centres is limited for students in rural areas, especially for girls. The concept of clearing exams has now become a synonym to studying in Kota or Rajinder Nagar, but not every parent is comfortable sending their daughters out of their hometown. Hence, the dreams are crushed before there is even any effort in that direction,” he said.


Professor Ram also highlights students’ interest in business as a major reason. “When I talk to female students, especially on entrepreneurship, I see a higher sense of anticipation of a difficult road ahead. We need to have a more caring and compassionate business world for female entrepreneurship to thrive. Maybe female candidates see the world of business very differently than males,” he said.

‘Traditional’ career choice for women

The registration data of NEET-UG reaffirms the ‘traditional’ career choice for women as it is one of the few exams where female applicants outnumber male candidates. Of the total 16 lakh NEET-UG 2021 candidates, over 9 lakh were female as compared to only 7 lakh male applicants. NEET-UG 2020 supports the trend where 8.80 lakh women and 7.16 lakh men had registered.

Dr Amit Gupta, professor, AIIMS Rishikesh, does not feel that societal pressure impacts girls’ career choices but it is the innate female abilities that attract more females to the medical field.

“Engineering is still considered an industry-oriented job. Traditionally, jobs that require compassion and empathy would receive more applications from women than men. The notion that people with excellent soft skills should join the medical field still exists. Women, by default, have better empathy and care as compared to men. Hence, more women choose to make efforts join the medical sector as compared to engineering,” Gupta said.

Rai believes that institutes need to take affirmative reaction to resolve the issue, which would allow more females to enter the management classrooms. “There is a need to provide additional marks or ease admission provisions for candidates from non-STEM academic backgrounds. Integrated programmes that allow students to join after class 12 can also help in dodging the gender ratio problem in engineering courses,” he added.

First published on: 10-12-2021 at 12:25:12 pm
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