Susan Hayes Culleton and Marguerite O'Sullivan pictured with their book Engineering in the World and a robot.
From left: Susan Hayes Culleton and Marguerite O'Sullivan. Image: Supplied by O'Sullivan

Learning and development should be complemented by DE&I, says this author

22 Nov 2023

Marguerite O’Sullivan is using her experience as a sci-tech professional and outreach advocate to show students what it’s really like to work in STEM.

“I am deeply passionate about fostering growth and development within individuals and organisations – and to achieve this we need to ensure equity in STEM,” says Marguerite O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan is director of learning and development at Kenvue, an offshoot of Johnson & Johnson – a company she worked at for 20 years. Her professional trajectory began with an interest in science. She pursued a science degree followed by a master’s in nutrition at University College Cork (UCC).

“After completing my education, I started my own business in nutrition and also travelled to New Zealand to explore the world,” she says. Her drive marked O’Sullivan as an ambitious, curious and entrepreneurial person. But the pull of her home county was strong.

“Eventually, I returned to Cork and joined the medtech industry, starting my career as a manufacturing team leader for the Hip Replacement Business Unit at Johnson & Johnson.”

She spent years working for the multinational, holding a variety of roles in innovation, lean and engineering, operations and organisation management.

“My passion for problem-solving, innovation and my interest in people are what kept me motivated and constantly learning. I either pursued formal education, such as another MSC in supply chain, or moved into new teams and functions to continue my growth and development.”

A desire to lead by example

Like a lot of entrepreneurially minded people, O’Sullivan wanted to use her professional experience to improve her sector. She has long had an interest in educational outreach, DE&I and encouraging more women into STEM careers.

“My commitment to promoting diversity in my work started by participating in Women in STEM initiatives with Johnson & Johnson, covering areas from youth education to university and returner programmes.”

She led a programme called Reignite at Johnson & Johnson designed to empower women returning to the workplace after career breaks. “This programme provided many women with the opportunity to come back to the workforce.”

O’Sullivan was also part of a team that set up WISTEM2D programmes in several Irish universities. The initiative recently announced 62 recipients of scholarship awards as part of its 2023 edition. It provides STEM mentorship to help girls overcome some of the barriers to following sci-tech career paths.

“When it comes to breaking barriers to retaining women in STEM, leaders in organisations must drive change by altering processes that have inherent biases and by engaging in conversations to advocate for change.”

These days, O’Sullivan is the chair at STEM South West, which she describes as an “industry-led group that engages in leaders’ dialogues to advocate for change when it comes to DE&I”.

As well as DE&I, O’Sullivan is active in a number of groups that work on programmes to develop skills pipelines. She’s the vice-chair of the MedTech Skillnet Group and she is co-founder of the STEM Life Science Group, an initiative focused on driving innovation and collaboration in the life sciences industry.

Disconnect between STEM career realities and students

It’s clear that O’Sullivan doesn’t separate her work in DE&I and her work on skills development. After all, whether or not someone sees STEM as a viable career option for them begins very young – so, ideally that reinforcement is positive.

One way of ensuring that is providing plenty of practical, age-appropriate opportunities for students to learn about STEM. When she was still working with Johnson & Johnson, O’Sullivan noticed “a significant lack of awareness among students about the types of jobs available in industries like Johnson & Johnson, despite the vast amount of information available on the internet and social media”.

‘Putting a narrative and a face to different careers and linking them with the school curriculum and STEM concepts is helpful’

“This was particularly evident during our transition year [secondary-school] programme, where I observed a disconnect between what was taught in school and how it related to different careers,” she recalls. Putting paid to this disconnect was a major motivator in her most recent project – a book about engineering careers aimed at transition year students.

“I believe that putting a narrative and a face to different careers and linking them with the school curriculum and STEM concepts could be helpful. It would be like bringing STEM into daily life with fun activities and engaging facts,” she says of Engineering in the World, which she co-authored with Susan Hayes Culleton, who is managing director of the Hayes Culleton Group and author of Money Matters.

What was the collaboration process like? “Susan and I have different backgrounds that bring unique insights, skills and knowledge to the table,” says O’Sullivan. “I had the chance to read Susan’s previous book, Money Matters, and gained valuable knowledge from it. I wished there was a similar resource for STEM that I could have used.”

“I had industry insights, while Susan had knowledge of teenagers and how to engage with them.”

The importance of myth-busting

Their approach to writing the book was to be as straightforward as possible. “If either of us couldn’t understand what we were saying in the book – be it an engineering concept or an activity – we would not use it.” This was important to make the book an accessible and useful resource.

‘I dedicated one chapter to each myth, including barriers that discourage young girls from pursuing engineering careers’

“I am confident that teachers will find this book to be an invaluable resource in their classrooms, regardless of whether their primary subjects are related to engineering or physics,” O’Sullivan says. “By integrating practical engineering concepts into their lessons, teachers can gain a deeper understanding of the ever-evolving world of engineering careers and inspire their students to learn more about this dynamic field.”

As well as providing clear, easy-to-read information on STEM careers, O’Sullivan explains that she wanted to “dispel some of the myths surrounding engineering” – which she did by presenting research-based evidence.

“I dedicated one chapter to each myth, including barriers that discourage young girls from pursuing engineering careers – such as the belief that engineering is limited to mechanical engineering, involves dirty jobs or requires exceptional math skills.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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