Being a woman was never a barrier for me: Former Network Cork President on her career in STEM

Amy Nolan speaks with the former Network Cork President on her career in STEM, promoting diversity in the sector and the importance of forging connections
Being a woman was never a barrier for me: Former Network Cork President on her career in STEM

Outgoing president Marguerite O’Sullivan with new President of Network Cork Barbara Nugent on Patricks Hill. Barbara Nugent is the newly appointed President of Network Ireland Cork, a not-for-profit organisation for women in business, professions and the arts. Picture Darragh Kane

“SOMETIMES we want everything to be perfect before we start saying we’ve done a good job, but it’s about the journey. It’s about that learning and growing journey.”

Those were the words of Marguerite O’Sullivan, senior innovation engineering manager at DePuy Synthes Johnson & Johnson in Ringaskiddy who has been on an incredible journey so far, both professionally and personally.

In her 20th year with the company, Ms O’Sullivan’s professional life is marked by constant self-improvement and the acquisition of various qualifications.

Originally from Lombardstown, outside Mallow, but now living in Ballintemple, she said she never saw her sex as a barrier to pursuing a career in STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics).

“When I joined in operations, I was the only female in my department.

“My first introduction to the company was at a Christmas dinner where I was the only female there.

“Somehow I never look back on it as being too daunting!

“I came from a family of four brothers.

“Going through school I did three sciences – I did it because I loved it.

“I was really encouraged by my aunt who was a chemist and owned her own business in Mallow.

“It never seemed unusual to me for her to own her own business and for her to be a leader in her area in STEM.”

Now, after forging a successful career within the industry herself, Ms O’Sullivan is passionate about promoting diversity in STEM.

“We do a lot of work with the universities and the schools in promoting STEM and STEM careers.

President of Network Cork Marguerite O'Sullivan, Innovation Engineer Manager at DePuy Synthes and Susan Hayes Culleton, The Positive Economist at the Network Cork Webinar: Money Matters with special guest speaker Susan Hayes Culleton, The Positive Economist in the VE Studio, North Link Business Park, Cork. Picture Darragh Kane
President of Network Cork Marguerite O'Sullivan, Innovation Engineer Manager at DePuy Synthes and Susan Hayes Culleton, The Positive Economist at the Network Cork Webinar: Money Matters with special guest speaker Susan Hayes Culleton, The Positive Economist in the VE Studio, North Link Business Park, Cork. Picture Darragh Kane

“In the schools we really try and build up the curiosity around STEM so we have a programme called the STEM Academy which goes into national schools and secondary schools and really brings STEM alive for the young people.

“Building on that, we try to bring in transition year students and show them what life is like in somewhere like J&J where there are so many different roles,” she explained.

“My nephew joined as a TY student this year and he would have said that Johnson & Johnson only do baby powder!

“They have this set belief before they come in.

“But he was really blown away by the sustainable energy and environmental programmes that are there that he hadn’t known about.

“You get to see the roles that are in front of you. For girls especially, they get to see the beauticians, the hairdressers, they get to see what it’s like working maybe in sales or in fashion — they don’t get to see what’s behind an organisation. That’s what we’re trying to do — bring that to life a bit more.”

Ms O’Sullivan also set up the Johnson & Johnson Re-Ignite Programme to bring females back to the workplace after career breaks.

“If you’re on a career break or out of work for more than two years, you can come back as part of this return programme and get support while rebuild and reignite your career.

“We’ve had fantastic females come back after 14 years out of work and come back to their technical field and boom at it because they get the mentorship and support in helping themselves orientate in a work/life balance again,” she explained.

“The feedback from those programmes is great — they’ve had a huge impact on people’s lives.”

Ms O’Sullivan took a career break herself in 2006 where she travelled to 27 different countries, including India, where she set up a charity called ‘Human Wave’.

The kick-start to set up the Re-Ignite Programme came when she joined the Cork branch of Network Ireland, seven years ago.

“A committee member just approached me at the time and said I would enjoy being part of Network Cork, even though I work in a corporate.

“She said it would help me learn more about what’s going on in Cork and local businesses.

“It gave me an opportunity to meet people in Cork and have a local linkage to the businesses in Cork.

“That’s when I was able to get the Re-Ignite Programme going.

“I worked with someone in Network Cork, a lady Karen O’Reilly, she founded EmployMum.

“She advertised the J&J programme when it came out first because she had a database of women who wanted to come back to flexible work."

Marguerite O'Sullivan, former president, Network Ireland Cork.
Marguerite O'Sullivan, former president, Network Ireland Cork.

Ms O’Sullivan is a previous winner of the STEM category of the Network Ireland Cork Businesswoman of the Year Awards, which recognises the contribution of an individual to the STEM sector.

“It really helped shine a light on the careers that are there within STEM,” she said, speaking of the accolade.

“I think it was recognising that it is a really important part of our community as a profession.

“It gave me access to speak more about STEM and for people to learn about it.”

Ms O’Sullivan took over the voluntary role of President of Network Ireland’s Cork branch at the end of 2019, just months before the pandemic hit.

“I took over the presidency in November so I had four months pre-Covid and then went online for the second half of the presidency.

“It was a challenge to go online, but we kept connecting and got better with using technology to keep connected.

“I think it was a good support in helping with the isolation element and for people to get support in what to do for their business.”

This year, the STEM award is sponsored by DePuy Synthes J&J.

The closing date to apply for the Network Ireland Businesswoman of the Year Awards is Friday, April 16 at 5pm.

To find out more, visit www.networkireland.ie or email corkawards@networkireland.ie

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