Dr Ruth Freeman
Director of Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland
From the world’s first female aviation engineer, Lilian Bland, to discrimination-defying solar astronomist, Annie Maunder, Irish women have helped shape global science, engineering and maths as we know it today.
There have been many accomplished and inspirational female scientists throughout history. Pioneering individuals like Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, who made a major breakthrough in modern day x-rays by solving the structure of benzene, have inspired a STEM community in which women are active and ambitious contributors. It’s crucial that we keep showing women that this is a community in which they are not only welcome and valued, but also one which cannot succeed without them.
There’s a gap across gender interest in STEM
Having conducted research into public perceptions of STEM in Ireland, we have found a significant gender gap with respect to interest in science. sixty-three per cent of men declared themselves interested in STEM, while only fifty-two per cent of women did. Thankfully, since this study in 2015, a number of initiatives have been working to foster greater interest among girls in STEM, and ultimately, greater inclusion.
Just last year, for example, we launched the nationwide #IGetPaidToDoThis campaign through our Smart Futures programme, with support from the Department of Education and Skills. The project demonstrated to young people, primarily those at second level education, the exciting and potentially unexpected careers that studying STEM can lead to.
We need girls and women to see their importance in STEM and its future. We all must play our part in showing them that.
Dr Crionna Tobin, Head of Science and Education in Glanbia Performance Nutrition, and Alba Menendez, a civil engineer with Arup were featured in the campaign. They spoke to us about their STEM journeys so far, discussing the reasons they love their jobs, the challenges they have faced, and what a day in their working life looks like.
Crionna and Alba are just two examples of the dedicated women working in STEM in Ireland. We are lucky to have female scientists, engineers and technology experts who are passionate, innovative, and in many cases, world-leading. It’s vital that we continue to support them, so that they can continue to work in what they love, and so that our women have wonderful role models to look to when thinking about a scientific career.
SFI female researchers and gender data
We plan to invest in another analysis of the Irish public’s perceptions and awareness of STEM later this year, which will allow us to achieve a better understanding of the connection between women and science in Ireland. Ultimately, it will help us to ensure that careers in STEM are seen as equally available to everyone.
As we look to our new strategy for 2020-2025, we are placing great importance on initiatives and targets that will make this a reality for women in STEM. We will be proactive in breaking down the barriers. For many girls and young women, careers in STEM simply don’t appear as a viable option. Whether this is because they don’t have access to STEM subjects in school, have exposure to fewer female scientists in the media, or simply have no relevant personal experiences, girls often do not have access to the support they need to consider and pursue STEM careers. That needs to change.
Inspirational women impact the challenges of today
Science and technology are rapidly changing the world we live in. We need to take inspiration from the trailblazing women who went before us, and continue their work in harnessing science to solve many of the challenges we face today. We need girls and women to see their importance in STEM and its future. We all must play our part in showing them that.