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Teen-Turn: How companies are bringing more women into STEM

13 Jul 2017

Now in its second year, Teen-Turn is hoping to further bridge the gender gap and introduce young women to a career in tech.

Companies often talk about the hot-button issues within the tech sector.

As gender equality, diversity and community outreach are thrust into the spotlight, many multinationals want to throw in their two cents about what needs to be done to change things and what they would hope to see.

However, what brings about real change more than think pieces and grandiose speeches is action.

Teen-Turn is an initiative that began last year, which places girls in second-level education from disadvantaged areas into two-week summer technology internships with companies located close to them. It is also one of the 16 finalists for the 2017 Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards.

This initiative sets out to address the low numbers of women within the tech sector by exposing students to the careers that could be available to them.

This in turn would help to narrow the ongoing skills gap by introducing future talent that might not have considered a career in tech.

“Right now, we have 35 companies and 18 DEIS schools throughout Ireland,” said Joanne Dolan, founder of Teen-Turn. “We connect the girls from the DEIS schools while working with their school representatives with companies.”

Dolan said the companies themselves don’t have to be a tech company, they merely need a technology element that the girls can be brought into.

“[The girls] are assigned a mentor from the company and they’re put to work on a technology project so they’re not just photocopying and running errands, they actually are exposed to hands-on experience,” she said.

“This is bridging the community to the companies and vice versa.”

Hands-on experience

Dolan said it is better for girls to gain some hands-on practical experience in STEM to better visualise themselves in those environments. This is why the companies involved mentor the girls and immerse them in projects where they can actually contribute.

One of the companies on board is HR technology firm Globoforce. Christine Doran, Globoforce’s HR manager, cited research from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), which shows that at age 15 or 16, girls don’t have the visibility to see themselves in a technology career.

“When the opportunity was there to give them that visibility, we took it and very much ran with it,” she said.

Andrea Johnson is the global business systems group director at Globoforce but she was also a Teen-Turn mentor last year. “You know that old adage of, ‘If you can’t see it you can’t be it’? We’ve got really rich examples here at Globoforce of senior women running through our technology function who excel at what they do.”

Johnson also said she was pleasantly surprised to see what the girls were most excited about. “It was great to see what really engaged them.

“I asked them to do a presentation back to all our ladies in IT to say what they had learned and what their journey was,” she said. “The things we thought would be the big-ticket items on the list actually weren’t.”

Johnson said that the IT helpdesk and being able to take laptops apart were some of the major takeaways for the girls.

Fitting in

Teen-Turn’s Dolan confirmed that the 15-year-old age group is exactly when to get girls involved, before they turn away from STEM. She said the same SFI research shows that fitting in is one of the most important factors to students when it comes to choosing their career path.

“We all know about mentorship, we all know about the parental influence, but the concept of fitting into an environment is really influential,” she said.

This is the aim of Teen-Turn. When the girls go into these environments, they might not expect to fit in. However, Dolan says that when they come out of their Teen-Turn work experience, they are able to visualise themselves in technology career environments.

“They do see themselves working in these companies that are literally in their own neighbourhood and, so often in these areas, so few of the residents are actually employees in the companies adjacent to them,” said Dolan.

Going back for more

It’s not just work experience that Teen-Turn wants to give the girls. “The impact we’re looking for is a real change, like a social change. It’s companies seeing the neighbouring communities differently. It’s those in the community seeing themselves differently.”

While long-term goals will take time to be visible, Dolan said that 60pc of the girls went back to the companies to do transition-year placements.

Another company that supports Teen-Turn is Xtremepush, a marketing start-up that came to the initiative quite late last year.

It was keen to get involved in order to show the variety of work within a tech company for young girls who might not know. Susan Moran, marketing manager at Xtremepush, said: “We know the struggles of getting women into tech companies and how it is a male-dominated industry, which isn’t good for anyone.”

‘We have an opportunity to showcase what women can do in the workplace’

Moran said people can often only see coding when they think about tech companies. However, Teen-Turn shows the girls that there are other roles within those tech companies, from marketing to finance.

“It’s opening the eyes to a new industry and it’s getting girls involved in the tech world and seeing the various different roles within the tech world.”

Moran said the girl that was with them last year stayed in touch, and called in when she could. “She was a great help to us here, and she got involved in a lot of the sales and marketing projects.

Johnson added: “As a mentor, we had designed a programme where I really wanted the girls to see our IT function here in all its glory, so I wanted them to follow something through.”

She said she hopes to create a project this year that the girls can work on from start to finish, and have something to take away with them. “We have an opportunity to showcase what women can do in the workplace.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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