2023 proves to be another successful year for iQuest and the Women in STEM Summit event which was held in Croke Park on March 15th 2023. Our representatives this year consisted of the following CWiT members; Maeve Elliott (IBM), Alexandra Berces (Avanade), Jade O’Connor (Avanade), Piia Lawlor (Dell) and Breda Flanagan (HPE).
In this blog post, Alexandra provides insights and key takeaways from the event:
Importance of Diversity
The day opened with Dr. Katriona O’Sullivan (Digital Skills Lecturer, Maynooth University) discussing the topic of how class and gender intersect to affect STEM participation. We all know the importance of intervening during the early years of education and the importance of empowering young students to pursue STEM subjects. Dr O’Sulliuvan highlighted that students in DEIS (disadvantaged) schools have lower levels of STEM literacy and simply don’t have the same level of opportunity as those who are in non-DEIS schools. The STEM Passport for Inclusion project that she leads aims to give young women access to STEM, regardless of their socio-economic status. Katriona mentions that through the program, they are set to reach 5000 girls in DEIS schools in 2023. It is also extremely important to remember that it is our duty to educate ourselves and leaders in the industry about the importance of creating business decisions from the perspective of society as a whole.
In line with IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity scheme, the event had a few panel discussions centred around inspiring the future women of STEM by embracing equity. We learn why equality is simply no longer enough, and why it’s necessary to assess the needs of individuals and provide them with the support that they require to succeed. We also hear from the women in the Irish Defence Forces and their experiences going from lower ranks to positions of higher power and authority. An interesting point that was highlighted during the discussions was that the majority of the women who were included in the panels actually grew up with a lot of brothers or grew up in a family of similar fields. This is a great example of how much your environment growing up can impact your career in the future and showcases how important it is to get to students before they are affected by societal gender norms and stereotypes.
Building Educational Blocks
The event continued with further discussions about preparing learners for the future and how we can empower young students to believe that they can succeed in STEM. We hear from Dr. Ronan Bree (Lecturer, Dept. Life and Health Sciences, Dundalk Institute of Technology), Professor Hamsa Venkat (Naughton Family Chair in Early Years & Primary STEM Education, Dublin City University), Dr. Arlene Gallagher (Founding Director, Trinity Walton Club) and John McKennedy (Principal, St. Colmcille’s Community School) about the kind of work they’re doing in order to achieve this. Professor Hamsa Venkat talks about the importance of getting high-quality educators that can accommodate non-traditional learners and ensure that they are being taught in a way that resonates with them. John Kennedy also makes a fantastic point about how there are years and years of regressive legacy and traditions in schools to this day, and we are now trying to undo the damage, but it is the educators’ duty to ensure that the students’ needs and desires are heard.
Advancing Women in Leadership
Probably one of the most impactful and inspiring speakers of the day was Sinead Crowther (Founder & CEO, Soothing Solutions) who delivers a great talk about the hardships she faced throughout her life as a single mother and her experiences stumbling into STEM in her forties. She describes her story balancing work and homelife with 3 children on her own, working evenings and weekend shifts at a local Tesco. Struggling to make ends meet and faced with the dilemma of losing her job, she was forced to take a Sunday shift one particular evening and leave her kids with a new babysitter. Little did she know, this decision would soon become a massive turning point in her life. She received a call that no mother would ever want to receive and was told that her son youngest son had an accident in which he received third degree burns and eventually developed sepsis. His condition was worsening, and the doctors were struggling to stay optimistic about his health. She talks about hearing this and begging for a second chance to turn their life around, holding his weak hands in the hospital. Miraculously, he pulled through and she kept her promise. She went on to develop Tonstix, a child friendly, choking-hazard free lozenge and is now the CEO and Founder of Soothing Solutions! Sinead’s story touched the crowd, and she received a standing ovation from everyone!
Blog written by Alexandra Berces, Avanade