Pay IT forward: How can we boost tech diversity in schools?

7 Dec 2018

Sharon Walsh. Image: Fidelity Investments

Fidelity Investments’ Sharon Walsh tells us how the company’s partnership with a Galway school aims to create a new generation of female technologists.

Sharon Walsh is vice-president of technology at Fidelity Investments Ireland. Based in Galway, but often spotted in the company’s Dublin offices, she manages more 200 people. They are part of teams focused on the software delivery that supports Fidelity’s institutional and asset management businesses.

Still in the day job, but in a completely different aspect, Walsh is the sponsor of Fidelity’s partnership with Scoil Bhríde Mercy Secondary School, also known as Mercy Tuam.

With help from her colleagues and support from the business, she has been providing the principal and teachers at Mercy Tuam with additional support as they pilot the Leaving Certificate computer science curriculum for the first time in Ireland.

Walsh told us more about this initiative and why she pursued it.

smiling woman with medium length blonde hair wearing black top and white blazer.

Sharon Walsh. Image: Fidelity Investments

What does the partnership Fidelity Investments has with Mercy Tuam entail?

The partnership entails a multifaceted approach to supporting this all-girls school on its objective to increase the uptake in STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and maths]. Fidelity is going to facilitate this by introducing these students to role models in technology, delivering student workshops and technology and career talks, and hosting office visits to Fidelity.

Our partnership will also focus on the teachers via a teacher mentorship programme, supporting them in the Leaving Certificate computer science pilot programme.

Why has Fidelity Investments engaged in this programme to pilot a Leaving Cert computer science curriculum?

Fidelity is committed to effecting sustainable change for women in technology within Fidelity, our local communities and industry. By engaging early in the life cycle, we hope to influence the career aspirations of female students and create a new generation of technologists. In Fidelity, we like to call it ‘paying IT forward’.

Was there a reason for choosing this school in particular?

Through my board participation on IT Association Galway (ITAG), a request for infrastructure assistance was submitted by the school’s principal to the board, looking for industry support.

The Mercy School in Tuam had been selected by the Department of Education and Science as one of only 40 schools nationwide to participate in the national pilot project for introduction of the new Leaving Certificate subject, computer science, commencing in September 2018. They are also the only school in Galway to have been selected and, indeed, one of only two schools in Connacht.

As a neighbouring association with mutual interests, that certainly got our attention. At our initial meeting with the school faculty, we were impressed by their commitment to motivating and incentivising their students into considering further study in STEAM subjects, with the goal of these young women considering careers in technology.

‘We’re very optimistic as to the benefits it will bring to the school, the students and our colleagues in Fidelity who have the opportunity to inspire a new generation of STEAM females’

With significant resources invested to build the programme to date, today Fidelity’s partnership with the school is very aligned with our goal of making sustainable change for increasing women in technology, and gives us a real opportunity to effect real change further back in the life cycle. We’re very optimistic as to the benefits it will bring to the school, the students and our colleagues in Fidelity who have the opportunity to inspire a new generation of STEAM females.

Are there other initiatives Fidelity is involved in to promote STEAM education?

Fidelity is committed to STEAM education, which is embedded in our CSR programme, Fidelity Cares. We are active in primary schools (Junior Achievement Ireland programmes), secondary schools (the Fidelity-sponsored STEM programme, Futurewize) and graduate programmes (the Leap programme), which we believe are creating a slow but steady movement and are all delivered via partnerships by our committed employees.

Our senior female leaders also champion women in technology through participation in relevant bodies including ITAG, Technology Ireland and American Chamber of Commerce Ireland.