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VOICES

Opinion How do we attract more women into STEM roles to shape a better world?

I Wish co-founders Gillian Keating and Caroline O’Driscoll discuss the importance of encouraging young women into careers in STEM.

IT IS CRITICAL that we attract more women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) roles, to effect real change and shape a better future. Currently, only one in four people in STEM are women.

Through our annual I Wish showcase event which sparks interest in STEM and engages girls with female STEM role models, we are working towards a model of sustainable interventions through a repository of I Wish resources, tracking of I Wish Alumnae and development of I Wish Alumnae mentors.

In the last five years, real progress has been made however despite evidence of improvement in girls’ awareness and understanding of STEM careers since 2016, progress towards gender equality in STEM remains low.

It’s not just an Irish issue but an EU wide one, and one for all growth sectors from healthcare to cyber security and data analytics. Following European Commission President Von Der Leyen’s State of the Union address last month the commission adopted a proposal to make 2023 European Year of skills – “A workforce with the skills that are in demand also contributes to sustainable growth, leads to more innovation and improves companies’ competitiveness.”

iwish2 (1) Pictured during the European Commission President’s visit to Ireland, at a meeting on encouraging more teenage girls towards STEM careers, are (l-r): I Wish co-founder Gillian Keating; Sharon Lombard, I Wish; European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen; Taoiseach Micheál Martin; and I Wish co-founder Caroline O’Driscoll. iWish iWish

It also reported that there is a low representation of women in tech related professions and studies, with only 1 in 6 IT specialists and 1 in 3 STEM graduates being women.

Upskilling

The 2030 digital compass sets the EU target that by 2030 at least 80% of all adults should have at least basic digital skills and there should be 20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU while more women should be encouraged to take up such jobs.

As part of the skills agenda, at I Wish we are committed to helping and supporting our next generation of young women to become thought leaders, innovators, and game changers. Through our showcase events, our industry partners, and our incredible role models we want to show these young women that there are many great women in STEM in Ireland that want to help and support these young women to follow in their footsteps.

When we asked teenage girls what specific barriers they see in STEM, 57% said they are not confident in their ability in STEM. More than half (52%) cited a lack of female role models.

Now more than ever role models have a crucial part to play. We need to encourage these girls to be their own unique self and allow them to pursue their own passions and interest. At I Wish we can help them develop a sense of self and along with our partners and ambassadors who engage with the girls we can engage with them in a way that encourages confidence so that they believe in themselves and one day take their own place at the table.

Michelle Obama recently put this very well: “I kept trying to fit myself into the spaces I was in.” For many people, she said, “that feeling of not fitting, of having to exist outside the norms being presented to you often persists deep into adulthood.”

Steering careers

In our view, this also represents how many young girls feel about making subject or career choices in which women are not well represented. It is why the mentorship program we run with Deloitte for example is so important. It’s not just about equal representation but inclusive representation.

At I Wish we are always trying to build pathways to inclusivity. Young girls need to learn to showcase their difference for what it is and gain insight into their potential to drive change. Whatever they do, we want to help them realise and harness this by showcasing what women in STEM have done.

As one of our I Wish Speakers Mary Robinson Former President of Ireland and Campaigner for Climate Justice said at the I Wish event: “Feel empowered, and if you start to do it, if you start to feel your voice heard you will never go back. If we just take away the barriers to women’s leadership, we will solve the climate change problem a lot faster.“

We can no longer tolerate a world where girls are inhibited from participating in the economies of tomorrow just because of their gender. Empowering the next generation to succeed is incredibly important to us which is why we are so passionate about helping girls and young women to embrace STEM. This is a whole of a society issue – from our homes, our schools, our workplaces; we all have a part to play in paying it forward.

Our ambition is to ensure that no girl gets left behind as the world evolves at an astonishing rate through STEM; to create an inclusive world where every girl has an opportunity to lend her voice, to innovate, to dream, to dare to be different to the gendered stereotypes of the past, and to take her place at the table.

The I Wish Report 2022 on teenage girls’ perspective around STEM highlighted persisting barriers and gender imbalance in STEM. Almost two-thirds (64%) highlighted persistent poor gender equality in STEM as a barrier and 61% lacked access to STEM work experience.

We were delighted to report that 93% of girls surveyed reject the stereotype that STEM careers are more suited to boys, in contrast with 78% in 2016. However, 46% cited existing stereotypes in STEM as a reason for the fact that only one in four people working in STEM are women.

Caroline O’Driscoll is the Technology Media & Telecommunications Tax leader at Deloitte North & South Europe. Gillian Keating is a partner at RDJ law firm and leads the corporate department. The 9th annual I Wish STEM Showcase hybrid event will take place on 28 February 2023 at the RDS Dublin. 

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Gillian Keating & Caroline O’Driscoll
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