Executive, BioPharmaChem Ireland at Ibec
STEM-related industry sectors continue to offer a significant portion of job opportunities in Ireland. However, according to the most recent CSO Figures, of the 117,800 people working in roles that require STEM skills, just 25% of these roles are performed by women.
We need to ask why women are still underrepresented in STEM-related roles, when research has shown the benefits of a diverse workforce. Benefits include financial gain, better decision-making and problem solving, as well as improved innovation and collaboration.
There has been some progress made in female participation rates at management level. According to a 2019 report conducted by Ibec, ‘Inspiring girls, supporting female leaders‘, there has been an 8% increase in female participation rate at management level between 2001 to 2018, but we have a long way to go.
Encouraging stem at younger age
Ensuring a strong pipeline of female graduates begins at the post-primary level. It is concerning that we are still seeing low numbers of female students choosing STEM subjects at Leaving Certificate.
In 2020, the Department of Education released a report around best practice interventions for gender balance in STEM in schooling. There was no single intervention identified as the preferred approach, rather it is important to recognise the interconnected factors influencing girls’ participation in STEM. Some of the interventions included developing strong role models and profiling the different entry routes and career progression within science, technology and engineering sectors.
A report conducted by Accenture entitled Girls in STEM revealed that teachers are one of the biggest influences in young girls’ lives.
Value of female role models
If young women can see other women developing successful careers, this can encourage them to pursue similar education paths and be confident that they too can aspire to a satisfying and well-paid career in these sectors.
In June 2019, a report conducted by Accenture entitled Girls in STEM revealed that teachers are one of the biggest influences in young girls’ lives. The STEM Teacher Training Intern programme is an innovative programme started by DCU, with 30% Club and Accenture in 2016. It enables pre-service STEM teachers to gain a first-hand experience of what it is like to work in a STEM industry, the diversity of roles that are available to people who pursue these fields and a variety of paths that one can take towards working in the industry. Teachers can then bring this knowledge back to their schools to inspire their students to engage in STEM.
Increasing second-level female participation in STEM should be a main priority going forward, highlighting the varied career opportunities in STEM-related fields early in secondary education, from first year onwards.