How Connecting Women in Tech aims for equality in STEM
Women in STEM Shalini Hollingum, Chair of Education Committee at Connecting Women in Technology (CWIT) shares her experience of building a support, inspiration and career education for women in the sector.
Tell us a little bit about Connecting Women in Technology; what exactly do they do?
CWIT is a collaborative partnership of 17 multinationals in Ireland who have invested interest, passion and drive in attracting, retaining and promoting women’s participation in the technology sector through a number of creative and collaborative initatives.
CWIT provides a forum and a network for women in the sector, through which member organisations and participating members can encourage each other to succeed in the industry and attract more girls and women into STEM occupations.
We have three pillars - Branding, Education and Early Careers, and we apply the themes of Attract, Retain and Promote across the three pillars.
How did you join CWIT and what is your role at CWIT?
In 2015 I joined Accenture who are one of active members of the CWIT partnership. It was through the involvement in the initiatives to promote STEM at Accenture that I joined CWIT team. I am now the Chair of Education Committee, so effectively I lead the Education pillar of our activites.
How do the CWIT initiatives encourage young girls to pursue STEM careers?
Within Education we are having a real push on the ‘Attract’ side of things. Here we are working with young women in secondary level of education to positively alter their perceptions of STEM careers by talking to them about diversity of careers in STEM, highlighting the range of opportunities that choosing STEM subjects at second and third level can lead to and providing coaching and mentorship through a number of programmes. We also engage with teachers and guidance councellors, on STEM education initatives.
We pay particular focus to girls in secondary level of education to inform, educate and encourage them toward the rewards of working in the technology sector, through collaboration with organisations like Teen Turn, and by delivering our own programme ‘IT is not just for geeks’, an interactive presentation and conversation with Transition Year students about the range of different career opportunities in STEM.
Studies have shown that students can become entirely disengaged from subject such as Maths, Science and Technology from as early as 11, and that teachers and parents constantly exhibit influence over young people. Girls in STEM Report from Accenture in 2017 identified that teachers and guidance councellors, as key influencers for young children (specifically young girls/women), were not fully informed or aware of the opportunities within the Tech sector. This is a huge consideration within the Education pillar. To address this, we have a STEM Teacher Internship programme in collaboration with Dublin City University.
The programme, now in its third year, invites pre-service teachers to have a 6-12 week paid placement in our member organisations where they gain first hand experience of working in the industry. We estimate that participating teachers, once qualified, reach over 40,000 students, which could make a real difference to providing inspiration and encouraging participation through communicating their personal experience of the industry.
Ultimately, we want to ensure that there is a strong pipeline of diverse talent for our industry.
How do the CWIT initiatives support women who are already working in the STEM sector?
There is usually a 50/50 gender split upon intake within the industry but what’s concerning is that within a few years in industry numbers start to drop off. There are a number of reasons for it: women may feel isolated, out of place or lack confidence.
Particularly through our Branding and Early Careers pillars inititatives, we place great focus on women at all levels and try to encourage them to stay in the sector through identifying their challenges and finding solutons.
Initatives such as speed mentoring, targeted networking events and broader networking initiatives aim to create communication channels and knowledge sharing environments. We invite both men and women, from all levels of an organisation, to attend and discuss these issues - everyone needs to have these conversations.
These events tend to range from focused around a key theme, with a panel of high profile speakers to roundtable discussions on how to achieve greater equality within the sector. Alongside these events we are very active on social media platforms to encourage dialogue around these issues.
What do you think industry can do to offer that same support to existing/future employees?
There is no one solution but the collaborative effort of multinational tech firms, which we are proud to host and collaborate with, is extremely important to build a workplace that is truly inclusive for everyone.
Lots of studies show a key starting point could be as simple as altering job descriptions so they don’t alienate women from applying through the language they use.
Through incremental changes to STEM culture, recruitment and conversation, we need to make everybody feel empowered to bring their whole selves to work... not just a persona so thatthey will feel empassioned, comfortable and have increased willingness to stay in the industry.