GIRLS need to wake up to the fact that some of the best paid and most flexible jobs available right now are in STEM.
And they need to push through any limiting confidence issues and misbelief that it’s not a caring profession where they’d be comfortable.
That’s according to Marie Moynihan, Senior Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition at Dell Technologies.
Marie, originally from Kilmichael, near Macroom, was speaking ahead of this year’s I Wish conference which is designed to inspire young female students to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
Marie said this is a space she personally feels passionate about and said it is a ‘crying shame’ more girls aren’t interested in this sector.
“There’s a huge volume of opportunities and jobs that they are excluding themselves from. The tech sector pay is growing three times faster than any other — simply put, girls need to wake up and smell the coffee!”
I Wish was founded in Cork in 2015 by Gillian Keating, partner with Ronan Daly Jermyn Solicitors; Caroline O’Driscoll, tax partner with Deloitte Ireland’ and Ruth Buckley, the Head of ICT and Business Services in Cork City Council. It now also takes place annually in The RDS, Dublin and to date has reached out to nearly 17,000.
Marie feels things are improving — but very slowly.
“There’s no big step change in the number of girls taking STEM core subjects in their Leaving Cert and this is the bottom line,” she said.
In Dell, the available talent supply is split around 70/30, male to female.
“But it’s more like a low 20% in the real technical roles. That’s the reality of the market out there. And if we can’t get girls in at the beginning, we can’t seek to increase the leadership pipeline of women.”
She feels a big barrier is a lack of awareness about what type of jobs are in STEM and an I Wish survey last year backs this up. It found that while 89% of female secondary school students feel STEM is a growing area of opportunity, a significant information gap remains, limiting the number of girls choosing a career in STEM.
The I Wish campus weeks provide yet another opportunity through interactive and immersive experiences to encourage engage and empower girls to pursue STEM. The campus weeks are being held in Cork Institute of Technology.
There’s also the issue of overcoming confidence.
“There’s still that myth that technology and science is more suited to boys and how they think; and there’s also a lack of education about how broad the sector is,” she said.
A reasonable aptitude for maths would be helpful, if only to get through the college years, but this is not a sector exclusively for the maths genius.
“It’s also important to be a good listener and to listen to your customer, a skill that girls feel comfortable with, so it’s important to realise that it’s not just one thing, where you’re stuck behind a computer. Nothing is done in isolation.”
Girls are drawn to professions where they can help others and don’t recognise STEM as having these roles, which Marie says is ‘crazy’.
“Girls don’t see this as a caring profession but if you look at it, all advances in areas like medicine are technology-fuelled.
“We have to work to change those perceptions and that’s why I love I Wish as speakers have a story and can show how what they’re doing impacts the world.”
As well as attractive pay, Marie pointed out the attractiveness of the flexible roles on offer.
She runs a global team with many operating remotely, which is the modern way of working. Her overwhelming piece of advice to girls is to ‘explore’.
“There are fantastic resources out there which can give you a much better understanding of what life would be like working in this sector,” she advised.
In particular, she pointed students towards Science Foundation Ireland’s smartfutures.ie.
And she’s encouraging other girls to get involved in the STEM industry, not to wait 15 years to make the push like she did.
Cathy Halpin feels that passion, drive and self-belief, matched with the right mentoring, are what’s key to success in the STEM sector and she will drive home that message to girls when she addresses them at the Cork I Wish conference.
Cathy’s career adventure at VMware started in January, 2012. Post redundancy from the residential telecoms industry, she decided to pursue new opportunities and technology seemed a great fit. She didn’t consider herself a techie and saw this as a new challenge.
She’s now the Senior Director for SDDC Support for EMEA and feels passionate about all areas of inclusivity and diversity, including getting more females involved in their organisation.
“I Wish is a great way to do this as it reaches out to girls at a formative age, when their minds are still growing and they can still be influenced by parents, teachers, etc,” she said.
Ideally, she’d like to see information getting to kids as early as primary school and that any information gaps in schools are bridged as the word IT is huge and covers everything from coding, to scripting, to cyber security.
“It’s also important to dispel myths that this is just a sector for males. Girls have natural capabilities in things like problem-solving, multi-tasking and coming up with different solutions and come with the very same work ethic. This is an exciting space and there’s no need to be afraid of it,” she said.
Cathy, originally from Waterford, had to overcome her own confidence issues before getting to where she is today.
After getting pregnant when she was 17, as a young mum she worked two jobs — sports retail by day and in a bar in the evenings.
“My work ethic was huge, and I knew I had the drive and capability and that there was a way around any challenge.
“I lost two years but I got back on track with the help of a very supportive partner and family.
“Now I feel strongly that no matter what obstacle is in your way, be it a personal or educational challenge, there’s a way around it.
She pointed out that tech was continuing to invest in Ireland.
“As a female in Ireland right now, you have the world at your feet so why not pick the tech sector?
“You’ll get life-long learning, career and financial opportunities, work/life balance and job satisfaction. You just have to believe in yourself.”