There is a huge paradox in the STEM (Science, Technology Engineering & Maths) sectors at present. On the one hand, these sectors are crying out for highly skilled talent. On the other, they are the very industries that have developed a reputation for being non-inclusive. 

Women hold less than 25 per cent of the roles requiring STEM skills in Ireland. Not alone that, but when we drill down to the technical and leadership roles, that figure falls as low as 10 to 15 per cent, depending on the research you utilise.

To address the current skills shortages, firstly, we need to ensure more girls are inspired to study STEM subjects and pursue careers in these fields by highlighting inspirational women, who have broken down barriers and achieved real success in these areas.  Secondly, attitudes in the sector will have to change if it is to offer welcoming and inclusive career options for bright young women, and other minorities. 

 

The Entrepreneurs

The picture is even darker when it comes to entrepreneurship in the high tech sectors. In the US, the highly-regarded Kauffman Foundation estimates that Women-led businesses only get 4.2 per cent of venture capital funding, and that just 4.2 per cent of the industry is made up by women investors.

Ironic given that, according to the Kauffman Foundation, “women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieving 35 per cent higher ROI (Return on Investment), and, when venture-backed, bringing in 12 per cent higher revenue than male-owned tech companies. So it’s not just the right thing to do, but investing in women founders is actually just good business sense.

It all goes to show that we may need to stop emulating Silicon Valley, which is becoming widely cited as dysfunctional, macho and unsustainable. Ireland, has an opportunity to plough its own furrow here and become identified as a fresh, welcoming, inclusive and liberal tech hub - one that embraces diversity, whether this relates to gender, sexual orientation, age, demographics.

 

So What?

Well, for a start businesses are missing a trick, given that women represent by far the greatest consumer market. Even when it comes to social media, some 56 per cent of facebook users are women, 60 per cent of Twitter users, and the figure rises to some 70 per cent when you get to Snapchat and Instagram. Women today make by far the greater number of purchasing decisions in any household in the world.

Also, it matters who is designing our future. Take car manufacturing. In 1949, the first crash test dummy came into use – he was called Sierra Sam. It was not until 2011 that the federal authorities in the US made it compulsory to also use female crash test dummies. Women’s physiological make-up is very different to men’s so the safety implications for female drivers is clear.

 

Inspirefest

I’ve spent much of my career championing women in STEM, and working to empower remarkable women role models in our sectors. To that end, at the end of the month we host the second annual Inspirefest. Over 2,000 attendees are expected to gather for the two-day conference and Fringe Festival, which will end with a free outreach family event on Saturday, July 2, with coding, games and hardware workshops for children and parents.

We’re bringing over some of the finest international minds in science, technology, engineering, design and business to Dublin. It just so happens that over 70 per cent of these speakers will be women.

The challenges of the sharing economy, soft robotics, the future of finance, medicine, media and entertainment, but also the need for greater diversity and inclusion in business, are all issues that over 50 global leaders will address in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from 30 June to 1 July.

Robin Chase, founder of Zip Car, the world’s biggest car sharing service (and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people); Raju Narisetti, VP of Strategy at News Corp, Games legends Brenda and John Romero are just some of the names taking part. 

Our aim is to showcase some of the great role models and to build a community with a common goal, that gathers annually to celebrate diversity and inclusion. It is time to change the ratio!

www.inspirefest.com