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Why Getting More Girls and Women into Ireland's Tech Sector Matters

As we continue to move further into the 21st century, there is an exponentially increasing demand for talent in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Despite the wealth of opportunities in these sectors, women remain disproportionately underrepresented. If we exclude half of the population from STEM fields, we risk missing out on valuable perspectives and creative solutions. In this article, we will delve into the critical nature of involving more girls and women in STEM, with a particular focus on Ireland.

STEM in Ireland

According to a report by the Central Statistics Office of Ireland (CSO) in 2018, only 25% of people working in STEM in Ireland are women, most of whom are concentrated in the life sciences and healthcare sectors. Conversely, women are starkly underrepresented in areas such as engineering, mathematics, and computer science. Data from Engineers Ireland in 2018 revealed that a mere 13% of engineering graduates were women, and by 2019, only 12% of engineering professionals were female. This highlights the substantial underrepresentation of women at both the graduate and workforce levels within the engineering field. Further to this, the pay gap between men and women working in scientific research and development in Ireland is the largest in the European Union, with women on average earning a whopping 30% less than men (European Commission, 2018). This significant gender gap not only deprives STEM fields of valuable perspectives and creative solutions but also perpetuates gender inequality.

One of the primary issues that must be addressed is gender inequality. The low number of women in STEM contributes to a considerable gender gap that has far-reaching consequences. Research has demonstrated that gender diversity fosters improved problem-solving and decision-making abilities. Excluding half of the population from STEM disciplines risks losing out on invaluable viewpoints and innovative solutions. Furthermore, gender diversity fosters a more inclusive, respectful, and inviting workplace culture for all employees.

Another practical reason to encourage women in STEM is that the technology industry is rapidly expanding in Ireland. As a result, there is likely to be a shortage of skilled workers in the coming years. By tapping into the vast pool of talent that women and girls can offer, the Irish tech sector can simultaneously address the workforce demand and enjoy the benefits of enhanced innovation and creativity deriving from a diverse workforce.

Three key hurdles preventing girls and women from entering STEM careers are lack of representation, gender stereotypes, and insufficient support and resources. When young girls and women don't see people who look like them in leadership positions, it can be challenging to envision themselves in those roles. This is where companies and organizations in Ireland's tech sector can make a difference. By promoting and highlighting the achievements of women in STEM, they can provide aspirational role models, encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in these fields and show them the opportunities that are available to them within STEM.

Another factor is the stereotype that STEM is a "male" field. This stereotype can start as early as primary school, where girls may be subtly encouraged to pursue more "feminine" subjects. For example, girls may be given dolls to play with while boys are given building blocks. These subtle messages can discourage girls from pursuing STEM fields and can reinforce the idea that these fields are not for them. It is crucial to break down these stereotypes and promote STEM as a viable and rewarding option for all students, regardless of gender. Programs like the "Smart Futures" initiative, a government-funded careers program designed to promote STEM to secondary school students, are an excellent first step in breaking down these stereotypes. The program highlights women in STEM and helps to inspire girls to consider a career in these fields.

Lastly, it is necessary to provide additional support and resources for girls and women in STEM, as they may face unique challenges and obstacles, especially in male-dominated settings. Employers and organizations must equip women with the tools and resources required for their career growth and advancement. Programs like "Women ReBoot" funded by Skillnet Ireland aim to support women who have left the tech industry to re-enter the workforce. Companies must also offer flexible working schedules, mentorship, and networking opportunities to ensure women can progress in their chosen careers.

In conclusion, increasing the participation of girls and women in STEM is not only vital for the growth of Ireland's tech sector but also for society as a whole. By promoting gender diversity in these fields, we can gain access to unique perspectives and inventive solutions, foster a healthy work environment, and fulfil the demand for skilled workers. To achieve this, it is crucial to dismantle the barriers preventing girls and women from pursuing STEM careers, including inadequate representation, stereotypes, and the need for more support and resources.

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