Tackling the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) industries has received international focus in recent years.
In February 2021, Secretary-General António Guterres, UN Chief, announced: “Advancing gender equality in science and technology is essential for building a better future.” In Ireland, this issue is proactively being addressed.
With one of the highest numbers of software developers per one million inhabitants in Europe, Ireland has one of the highest levels of female representation. According to the European State of Tech Report 2020, 32 percent of software developers in Ireland are women compared to an average of 30 percent in Europe. This is a promising figure that will hopefully increase and be reflected in other areas of industry thanks to Ireland’s Minister for Education and Skills’ plans to make Ireland best in Europe in STEM by 2026 and to increase by 40% the number of females taking STEM subjects for Leaving Certificate.
In addition to government plans and funding, Ireland boasts several initiatives aimed at inspiring women to pursue STEM subjects in an engaging way, encourage them to remain working in industry, return after time off and help them progress to senior levels.
Attracting female talent
In Ireland, the government, industry and academia are interlinked in a collaborative environment. Across the country, academic institutions are eager to produce graduates with the skills and calibre that industry needs to increase their students’ employability and industry readiness. In that context, Universities and Institutes of Technology in Ireland regularly engage with industry on syllabus content. Viewing technology as a pivotal area for economic growth, the government continually analyses the future of industry and ensures education can fulfil industry requirements too – Ireland’s first master’s course in AI was created in response to demand for AI skills.
This collaborative effort linking education and industry in Ireland extends to encouraging girls to study STEM subjects and empowering them to pursue scientific careers. By involving children and young adults in an engaging, welcoming way, Ireland’s numerous initiatives – including free coding and computer science workshops, women in STEM careers events and investigating the science behind global facts and issues – can help to open girls’ minds towards studying sciences at an advanced level. These programmes help young women to develop the self-belief that they can succeed in science or technology careers, so that they don’t close doors for themselves at such an early age.
Supporting women from non-scientific backgrounds who want to make the move into technology, is also critical. After all, if we have to wait for today’s teenagers to study and move up through the ranks to senior leadership, it will take much longer for the gender gap to close. Ireland offers excellent opportunities for professional women to upskill and cross-skill through Skillnet Ireland, Springboard and other programmes, in multiple areas relevant to technology. Combining both new and existing soft skills they have honed during their careers to date makes for a compelling competitor.
After women have studied, developed skills throughout their career in the technology industry, how do you ensure they progress in their career or are able to return and develop following a gap in employment? So often, women only advance their careers to a certain point due to a variety of reasons including the opportunity to progress and care-giving commitments.
These issues come down in part to having an enabling leadership and culture. Leadership teams that aren’t representative of a current or future workforce, in the context of diversity, is unlikely to recognise all the challenges and supports needed to enable ongoing participation and progression – for example flexible hours, remote working, training and benefits. To attract and retain female talent in technology, increased promotion of women into leadership roles is needed so that women have appropriate representation, a supportive female culture and role models to pave the way for them to succeed.
The 30% Club Ireland, is helping this issue by promoting women’s representation in senior management and supporting female talent with a selection of programmes. Women Mean Business is another organisation that celebrates and publicises female entrepreneurs and businesswomen, connecting women and recognising their contribution to the Irish economy and society. While TechLifeIreland annually highlights female founders and investment into female led start-ups in Ireland – this year crossing the target of €100m in a single year.
It’s also important that women receive the support they need via mentoring to elevate their own careers. Ireland offers some excellent networking and mentoring opportunities for women working in technology, in addition to further training and returner programmes. Women ReBoot and Women Returners are brilliant examples of the initiatives available in Ireland that help develop women’s skills, competence and confidence to re-engage with technology businesses after a career break.
Towards a gender diverse future
Leadership is a key enabler to change, and organisational leadership should reflect its teammates, the communities in which it operates, and the customers they aim to serve and win. Everyone has a responsibility to strive for a more inclusive society and working environment. There is still a lot of progress that needs to be made to improve gender diversity, but with its multi-pronged approach to supporting business women in STEM, Ireland is on the right course to supporting greater diversity and setting the right example.