Women in STEM: Interview #2

By Lisa Banti


Enkhtuul Tsendeekhuu is the professor of Bio-technology at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology. She is 56 years old and an adept professor.

I spoke with her the morning of the 30th June. We exchanged some formalities and spoke for a while of the upcoming traditional festival of Naadam in Mongolia. She answered rigorously to all of the questions I posed in the interview. She voiced her point of view and her unusual situation at the workplace.

What surprised me was the opposite work environment of Mongolia where there is a majority of women and a minority of men in the workplace and in society.

The situation described is one where society revolves around the predominantly female workers. She aspires for gender equality and equal rights in Mongolia. She aims for men to be more integrated in the workplace and in society.

“I wish for gender equality and equal rights in Mongolia as well in the rest of the world“

We have 8 Departments in our University. One of these majors in Industrial technology, where we have the department of Bio-Technology and Nutrition. I belong to this Department. I’ve worked in this University for 20 years and another 10 years in a Research Institute. During my time at the University as a student, I had a professor who taught me subjects like macro biology, food preservation, basic biology, and so on. My research topic is the identification of bacteria, especially in lactic acid bacteria and antimicrobial activity and also in biological active components of plants.

What type of vision do you have for the near future, regarding gender equality in the workplace? In my department we have 20 teachers and employees. There are only three men that are lecturers and researchers. So, that leaves us with 17 female teachers and staff. There are even more women in other Departments. I would say that the majority of the universities faculty members are female. I wish for there to be more men in our Department, to do more research and lab work. 

I think that when there are more women, our focus as a group shifts and we get less work done. There are more rumours and gossip where a group of women is concerned. I think women are tendencially more emotional and competitive than men. They find more things to argue and be angry about. However, I think that in the near future the ratio between the numbers of men and women in the workplace will be more balanced.

What do you think are the barriers that prevent from achieving gender equality in the workplace? I think there are multiple barriers, especially in my country, where gender discrimination and equality is reversed and directed towards men. Here, women are venerated. There isn’t as much discrimination and prejudice against men as there is against women in the rest of the world; men and women are viewed as equal. I’d say the population is divided by 50% women and 50% men, but in most sectors there are only women. Especially in Universities and hospitals, even in industries, as well as in kindergartens and school. I think, in terms of barriers, jobs are not well prorated between the two genders. Other barriers surface from the law, which does not distribute wages and salaries equally between men and women. Men are supposed to have responsibility over the family, but it’s hard for them to do so when their jobs don’t pay sufficiently. There are definitely men, in other countries, which dominate over society and the workplace earning a higher income even, than female workers. But here in Mongolia, even in high job positions like teachers, lecturers and doctors, men have a lower income than women. Another barrier would be the marital status. Many women in Mongolia are independent and single. Last but not least of the barriers I think we have to work through, is the situation of development of the country. Meaning: policies, laws and economics. Adifferent way of management on part of the government could help our situation with gender equality. 

Now, in Mongolia as well as in the rest of the world, women are rising in power and are bettering their situation individually and as a group.

What does your experience amount to in working in a predominantly female workplace? Before university I worked in a Research Institute in the Biotechnology Department of the University. There were a total of 8 researchers. Out of those 8, only the Director was a man. I think that if we were to include more men in the workplace there would be a decrease in daily gossips and we would be on schedule with our work.

What role do you think women should play in STEM? I think women can doeverything a man can, any job in the STEM disciplines. They can be leaders, managers, researchers, and any kind of faculty member. I think women are powerful and as ambitious and competitive as men, they can do any job inside of STEM, as well as outside of STEM. I definitely think men and women are equal in the workplace. 

Women have a greater affinity towards accuracy and care. They are more meticulous with details. I think men lack these skills, or at least that they don’t use them as competently as women can. With these great skills women have, also come pettiness and self-centeredness, which I think can be leveled out if there were more men working with us.

Have you seen or experienced a difference in the way you are treated, while working as a woman in an academic environment and/or in industrial companies? In the academic field and in University, there are mostly women. Where there are many women gathered together, a bond forms that allow us to work better together. I think maybe the work ethics in our Department depends on each woman’s determinedness and how well it fits with the character of the other women in the Department. Mongolian women play an important role in all industrial and commercial companies and sectors. Women populate a lot of the mining industry as well. They work hard not only in the Research Institutes, Universities and hospitals but also in jobs that include hard labour. Other than a few rumours spreading and the occasional gossip spiral, I haven’t experienced any kind of discrimination, prejudice of unfairness while at work. 

Do you remember what profession you wanted to pursue when you were a teenager like me now? After my secondary school graduation, I still had no idea what profession to pursue. Whether it was a to be teacher or a lecturer or a researcher, I never had a precise input towards a specific profession. And so I enrolled at the University still unsure of what profession to pursue and graduated in 1999. During that year there was a democratic reform happening. Everyone wanted to leave Mongolia and go abroad, to start or join a business, all with the common goal of making lots of money. I remained in Mongolia and joined the Research Institute. Even though the pay was not plenty I wasn’t looking to make money. Of course I had ambition like the people that were going abroad, but mine was directed not towards making money, but towards helping people and making discoveries. 

My father was a Biologist, a lecturer at the University. My mother was a science teacher in Secondary School. Maybe they are the ones that influenced me to choose this profession.

Were you able to attain your dream job? Do you enjoy your job? Yes, of course! It makes my parents proud and I’m happy to make them proud. I’ve inherited the title of teacher the same way my parents have. We are a family of teachers. When I worked in the Research Institute I worked hard and put a lot of effort into my work. I earned my PhD, and then I got married during my time at the University in the Research Institute. Then I moved to the University and worked as a teacher. I remained in Mongolia to pursue this profession because the commercial field and trade is not for me. I like doing research and working at the University. 

As you know, many countries worldwide still function on the premises that women are not suited to work in any STEM discipline, how do you feel about this major difference in your society and in others? That’s a hard question. Because of this discrimination bad things happen, and any progress we make towards gender equality fuels this discrimination. I think men and women should be equal in every sector of every country. In economics, in politics and all of society. That is my opinion.