Anna Rafferty is sitting in her home on a video call, talking about the WiSTEM2D programme.
Anna Rafferty. Image: Connor McKenna/

Why you should ‘be an actor, not an ally’ for women in STEM

21 Jan 2021

Anna Rafferty, director of strategy at Johnson & Johnson Ireland, talks about the company’s programme to support women in STEM.

“Everybody already knows that the lack of women in STEM is a problem,” Johnson & Johnson Ireland’s director of strategy, Anna Rafferty, recently told us. The most important thing, she added, is to actually act on it.

A step companies can take towards gender equality is developing specific programmes to encourage change. This was the motivation behind WiSTEM2D, an initiative launched by Johnson & Johnson in 2015 to support women in science, technology, engineering, maths, manufacturing and design.

The main goal was to create a “more diverse scientific community”, Rafferty said. To achieve this, WiSTEM2D focuses on three pillars; girls below the age of 18, undergraduate students and women already working in professional STEM roles.

“If you think of school children, we really want to pique their interest in STEM and to ignite that spark,” she explained. “So, we have a lot of Johnson & Johnson employees that would go into schools, carry out workshops and really engage and capture the children’s imagination.”

For college students, Johnson & Johnson Ireland partners with University of Limerick and University College Cork on engagement programmes. “The successful applicants then are given a Johnson & Johnson mentor, so they have somebody that they can talk to about what working in STEM is like,” she said.

“Or if they have any concerns about what a career in STEM would look like, they really have somebody close by who can answer those questions for them.”

Finally, through the third WiSTEM2D pillar, the aim is to retain women working in the industry and help them “flourish and continue on in their careers”, whether they’re based in Johnson & Johnson or another company.

‘Don’t try and do it on your own’

When it comes to developing your own initiative for women in STEM, Rafferty reiterated the importance of remembering what’s truly needed.

“Don’t focus on raising awareness,” she said. “What I would say is be an actor, not an ally. And do get out there and get active. But I think also join forces with others; don’t try and do it on your own.

“Get active, partner with others and make sure you know exactly where you want to make a difference.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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