Driving Impact in Gender Equality in STEM: Grand Challenges India, BIRAC, and WomenLift Health Launch Inaugural Women Leadership in STEM Program

Driving Impact in Gender Equality in STEM: Grand Challenges India, BIRAC, and WomenLift Health Launch Inaugural Women Leadership in STEM Program

New Delhi, June 6, 2024 – Grand Challenges India, the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with WomenLift Health, have launched the inaugural 2024 Women Leadership in STEM (WLS) program to drive impact in gender equality in STEM leadership in India. The Women Leadership in STEM offers a pathway for advancing gender equality in STEM in India, underscoring a commitment to elevating the power and influence of mid-career women in STEM fields by equipping them with essential tools, structured mentorship, coaching, peer support, and leadership skills for high impact.

The Women Leadership in STEM program is poised to promote gender equality and enhance the contributions of Indian scientists in the global science and technology landscape through more gender-equal, inclusive, and diverse STEM leadership in the country. By fostering a robust pipeline of women leaders in STEM, this initiative will contribute to systemic change and drive the nation’s progress towards greater gender equality in STEM fields.

The inaugural 2024 WLS cohort comprises twenty leading women scientists from public and private research institutions across India, including the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Tirupati, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Representing diverse voices and expertise in fields such as genomics, veterinary sciences, architecture, and design sciences, these women leaders are set to drive advancements and take on leadership roles in STEM in India.

Dr Shirshendu Mukherjee, Mission Director, BIRAC, emphasized the importance of gender equality for sustainable progress in India’s STEM ecosystem, stating, “We are committed to elevating women’s leadership in STEM. This initiative is a crucial step in advancing women scientists by nurturing their leadership skills.”

Complementing the Government of India’s ongoing efforts towards gender equality, including the “Nari Shakti” or women-led development agenda, the WLS program consists of three fully funded, five-day residential workshops designed to equip high-potential women leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to initiate purposeful initiatives and enhance their influence in their respective STEM fields. The cohort will receive expert guidance and mentorship from leading STEM experts in India, including Dr. Manisha Shridhar, Regional Advisor, WHO India, who remarked, “For too long, women’s potential to drive groundbreaking innovations in STEM and transformative change has been unrecognized. The WLS program seeks to amplify and harness this potential by providing a platform to infuse greater gender equality and inclusivity into STEM leadership in India.”

To tackle real-world challenges, accelerate institutional change, and promote STEM innovation and policy in India, the WLS program also includes a self-driven Leadership Project. This project offers each cohort member an opportunity to lead an effort that taps into their expertise, passion, and creativity. Ayesha Chaudhary, India Director, WomenLift Health, emphasized the critical need for such initiatives, stating, “Transforming the STEM ecosystem in India requires bold investments in women’s leadership across the STEM value chain—from research and funding to innovations and policy change—from key partners and institutions like BIRAC. These investments are essential to create a dynamic and inclusive environment where women can excel and lead.”

About Grand Challenges India

Grand Challenges India (GCI) at Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council is a flagship initiative of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. GCI supports Research, Development & Demonstrations to catalyse innovations to solve key health and developmental challenges in India and provide evidence-based recommendations to the policy makers.


Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a Government of India enterprise, is a vital Interface Agency for the biotech sector. It focuses on strategic research, innovation, and national product development needs. BIRAC facilitates industry-academia collaboration through targeted funding, technology transfer, and IP management. Over eight years, BIRAC has bridged gaps in innovation research, enabling the creation of affordable, high-quality products. The organization partners with national and global entities to realize its mission of empowering the biotech industry, particularly startups and SMEs, for the betterment of society.

About WomenLift Health

Established in 2019, WomenLift Health works to advance equality in health leadership through various actions at the individual, institutional, and societal levels. Through our signature Leadership Journey, we invest in the capacity of mid-career women, actively working with them to expand their power and influence in health – across countries, cultures, sectors, and disciplines. In addition to investing in the woman leader’s agency for change, our work includes engaging in conversations and partnerships with health institutions to influence the environment in which people live and work. It also includes leveraging societal momentum by fostering a global dialogue about the importance of women’s leadership and amplifying the voices of national and global leaders, including at our annual conference, Women Leaders in Global Health.