Only a quarter of people in STEM careers in Ireland are women

New research has found that only a quarter of people working in science, technology, engineering and maths are women. Currently, female role models are being enlisted to stop the stereotyping of STEM as a male career.

The education system is also seeing similar figures, with just 17% of entrants to third-level IT courses being girls, a number which hasn’t changed in over a decade. In maths, ladies make up just 22% of students; in engineering the figure is 24%.

Ireland is becoming more demanding of people with ICT skills, and this demand is expected to far exceed the supply available.

The main factors attributing to the low uptake rate at third level are Parents and teachers. Both play a key role and are highly influential when it comes to students’ choices, according to research by Accenture. Many simply are not aware or do not understand the depth of opportunities available for women. There is also the perception that maths and science subjects at senior cycle are simply too difficult.

So why are girls discouraged from studying STEM?

Evidence has suggested that negative stereotyping is the main reason why girls are discouraged from STEM subjects. In 2015, Accenture surveyed 1,500 girls between 11-18, and 2,500 young women between 19-23 in Ireland and Britain, and almost half believed STEM subjects were “male” careers. Just under 30% thought that STEM was better suited to “boy’s brains, personalities and hobbies”

So why are we leaving so many potential STEM professionals behind? This seems to be the question employers and educators are trying to answer. In the hope of rectifying the problem, and changing the image around the subjects, female role models are being used to inspire and encourage young women to pursue careers in this field.

I Wish (Inspiring Women in Stem), is a new partnership set up to target female secondary school students. It will host talks with transition year students and will give them the opportunity to meet and engage with role models working in a variety of STEM careers with big companies such as Google, Twitter and Dell.

Speaking of the venture, Ruth Buckley, I Wish founder and head of ICT and Business Services at Cork City Council, said; “There’s an image problem”

“If you’re a young girl, what’s sexy about Stem? What we are trying to do is bring girls into the arena where they can meet young women that they can relate to and ask them about their jobs. For some of them, maybe this is the first time they’ve ever seen a female specialising in physics or who works in chemistry.”

Role models are key to attracting women into the sector, says Ireland’s first professor of Stem education, Sibel Erduran, who took up her position with University of Limerick last year.

She says, however, that there are no quick fixes to getting more girls interested in Stem subjects. “Because this is such a huge, complex problem, we need co- ordinated and systemic action.”

The involves everything from building links with the industry, engaging with families and making educational visits in and out of schools to shift perceptions among girls, as well as their families.

The relevance of STEM

Erduran believes that we need to change the way these subjects are taught in the classroom in order to get more women engaged.

““If we had a curriculum that had STEM in its broader context – scientific knowledge situated within a societal context – with relevance for everyday living, then I think they would be more engaged.”

Paula Neary, lead for Accenture’s Stem initiatives who wrote the 2015 report, says “the lack of STEM take-up among young girls is a serious problem for industry”

“This is about the talent that industry is missing out on,” says Neary. “There is a huge shortage of Stem-skilled people anyway, and definitely if you look at the diversity issue, there is so much research there that shows having a diverse range of skills, and the diverse thinking that girls would bring to a problem, is important. Industry wants diverse teams, but you can’t always find it.”

Via The Irish Times