If you can see it, you can be it!
Don’t underestimate the power of real role models for young people when encouraging careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths ('STEM') particularly when it comes to young female students.
The stats all tell us that you’ll find fewer girls than boys studying STEM subjects at secondary school and this then has a knock on effect on careers, with fewer females choosing to make a career in our field. In fact, in Ireland, just 25% of the STEM workforce are women. With jobs in science and technology being some of the fastest growing worldwide and with 90% of future jobs requiring Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills, what’s holding girls back?
There are many factors that may contribute to the reason why there are so few women entering our field but one of the major reasons is that many young girls are succumbing to the stereotype that girls aren’t as capable in STEM – something that could not be further from the truth as there is little to no difference in boys’ and girls’ average ability at STEM subjects. This means that in order to attract more girls into our industry, we need to address the stereotypes they are exposed to and we need to do this from a young age! Critical to this is having role models who they can relate to and who inspire them not to forego their interest or ambition in STEM.
Our cluster of STEM companies in Kerry recognise the importance of inspiring the next generation & we are rolling out various initiatives to ensure that we are interacting and having conversations with teachers, students and parents about careers in our sector – because interactions with the local business community can have a truly transformational impact on a young person’s career aspirations. We want to make it clear that STEM is a hugely rewarding and exciting career for everyone. Outdated views and stereotypes are damaging to our industry especially when there is already a global STEM skills shortage.
Smash the Stereotype
Right now, the Kerry region is home to over 100 companies in the science, technology and engineering sector. We have a rich heritage in growing global success stories in Kerry and while we may all know home-grown success stories such as Kerry Group, Fexco, Dairymaster, Tricel, Tweak, Aspen Grove Solutions & PulseLearning, companies such as Athena Analytics, BioAtlantis, Salaso, ViClarity, Gallarus Industry Solutions, Wazp, Southern Scientific and Crua all scaling rapidly from our region.
And what’s more, there are brilliant females playing central roles at all levels and across all functions in these organisations. Some took a very traditional route – studying STEM at school and college while others have carved out a different path, coming from different disciplines or reskilling from another sector. And what do they all have in common? They are creative, innovative, resourceful problem-solvers with many citing having a positive role model or mentor as the reason why they now have a successful career in our sector.
By encouraging better representation and greater visibility of female STEM role models at a local level, clusters like Tech Industry Alliance ( formerly KerrySciTech) are addressing any underlying, gendered preconceptions about a career in STEM. And it is important to note, this isn’t about men only inspiring boys and women only inspiring girls – it is 100 percent a team effort in how we smash the stereotypes associated with our industry. Who does the empowering is irrelevant – what’s important is the long term change and benefits that diversity will bring.