The Pipeline Protectors: 33 women educating the next generation of STEM talent

7 Mar 2018

Image: MJgraphics/Shutterstock

These are the people addressing gender balance in the STEM pipeline, nurturing a new generation of women in STEM through education and outreach initiatives.

If those who can’t do, teach, then we’re grateful that these women who didn’t have the necessary pathways for them in STEM are bridging that gap for the next generation.

Alex Bernadotte

Alex Bernadotte. Image: Alex Bernadotte

Alex Bernadotte. Image: Alex Bernadotte

Alex Bernadotte is the founder and CEO of Beyond12, a non-profit organisation that helps low-income students graduate from college. Beyond12 is currently working on data-driven ways to quickly identify students most likely to need help, so they can act in time. This initiative will help young women all over the world gain access to education they wouldn’t normally have.

Bernadotte, who is a former Inspirefest speaker, is hoping to serve 1m students annually by 2025.

Aoibhéann Bird, Ruth Kenealy and Suzanne Little

Aoibhéann Bird, Suzanne Little and Ruth Kenealy from Girls Hack Ireland

From left: Aoibhéann Bird, Suzanne Little and Ruth Kenealy. Image: Aoibhéann Bird

“Girls Hack Ireland addresses the challenge of cultivating … that science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is inclusive of and rewarding for girls and women.” This is the core maxim of Girls Hack Ireland, an initiative started by Dr Joanne Dolan (more on her below) and later led by Dr Aoibhéann Bird and Dr Suzanne Little of Dublin City University’s (DCU) Insight Centre, and Ruth Kenealy, who has since left Insight for a new role at Google.

As well as organising various hack events that incorporate creativity, design and technology, Girls Hack Ireland offers girls the opportunity to meet female mentors in exciting STEM careers, and organises complementary programmes for parents and guardians to show them how to encourage their children’s interest in STEM.

Sue Black

Dr Sue Black speaking at Inspirefest 2015. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Three-time Inspirefest speaker Dr Sue Black is the founder of Techmums, a global community aiming to make technology more accessible to women and to empower them to learn new skills. Techmums has a particular focus on women from disadvantaged areas, who may not otherwise get the opportunity to learn the skills that could make a real difference to their lives.

‘If we get mums on board and excited about technology, then they’ll get the kids on board. The aim is to reach as many people as possible’

Since the first pilot scheme in 2012, Techmums has gone from strength to strength and Black herself is now a UK government adviser, thought leader and honorary professor of computer science at University College London.

Kimberly Bryant

Kimberly Bryant

Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code. Image: Black Girls Code

Kimberly Bryant founded Black Girls Code in 2011 and, since then, has been an instrumental force in educating young women of colour in the digital space, helping them to visualise and build a vibrant community rooted in a love for technology.

Bryant previously spoke at Inspirefest 2015 about her wish to see 1m girls introduced to coding by 2040, and her commitment to change is truly remarkable.

‘I don’t think that the trickle-down theory of diversity ever really works. For me, if a company is really committed to diversity, that means everything. That means gender diversity, that means sexual orientation for me, that means race, ethnicity’

Ruth Buckley, Gillian Keating and Caroline O’Driscoll

Women Invent 100 2018

I Wish founders Caroline O’Driscoll, Ruth Buckley and Gillian Keating. Image: Sasko Lavaros/Photocall Ireland

I Wish is a hugely successful initiative encouraging thousands of young women in transition year to think about the possibility of a career in STEM.

Set up in 2014 by three Cork businesswomen – Gillian Keating, partner at Ronan Daly Jermyn; Ruth Buckley, head of ICT and business services at Cork City Council; and Caroline O’Driscoll, partner at KPMG – this nationwide initiative, which is supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), combines the power of industry, academia and the public sector in order to inspire and encourage young women to think about a STEM career.

‘We cannot leave girls’ inclusion to chance’

Buckley said last year: “82pc of girls say they want a career where they can help other people, yet do not see how STEM facilitates that. Giving teachers and girls knowledge, information and access is key. We cannot leave girls’ inclusion to chance.”

Mari Cahalane

Mari Cahalane

Mari Cahalane, head of BTYSTE. Image: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Behind many of the inspirational women and girls of Ireland has been the encouraging words and advice from Mari Cahalane, organiser of the annual BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE). The competition has provided a huge platform for the next generation of scientists for years, and particularly for young girls who this year made up 60pc of the projects, with Cahalane keen to encourage greater diversity.

Since taking up the role in 2009, the model she has helped develop has spread to other countries as far away as Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates.

Mary Carty

Mary Carty. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Mary Carty. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Mary Carty is one of two co-founders of Outbox Journey (the other being Stemettes CEO Anne-Marie Imafidon, also featured on this list).

Outbox’s first event, Outbox Incubator, was an initiative to provide young women and girls with innovative business and technology ideas, seed funding and mentorship during an intensive six-week programme. Since then, more events and initiatives have been added, all designed to empower women and girls to pursue STEM careers.

Helen Concannon

Helen Concannon (far left). Image: Twitter

Helen Concannon (far left). Image: Twitter

Teacher Helen Concannon is the chief commissioner of the Irish Girl Guides, having been appointed in 2013. Upon accepting the role, Concannon said it was “a wonderful opportunity to work with inspiring women – women who dedicate their time to help develop the girls and young women in communities all over Ireland”.

Most recently, Concannon introduced engineering to the Irish Girl Guides, launching two new engineering badges just ahead of Engineers Week. This introduction brings the exciting career path of engineering to young girls and shows them the opportunities that are there.

‘We can change our world, and our world can be our local community or a wider forum. We can give our girls confidence to create that change, however small or big those changes are’

Joanne Dolan

Joanne Dolan

Joanne Dolan (second from left) with her Teen-Turn colleagues. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

A start-up consultant, creator and former programme leader at Girls Hack Ireland, Dr Joanne Dolan is one of the co-founders of Teen-Turn. By providing internships aimed at combating gender stereotypes, Teen-Turn allows teenage girls to explore technological career paths through invaluable work experience placements with companies such as AIG, Hays and Lonely Planet.

Dolan is a driving force in Irish STEM education and inclusion initiatives, and her dedication to the cause is something to be admired and emulated.

‘By using innovative and creative strategies which are both responsive to the community’s needs and make use of new technologies, community groups can position themselves to lead change’

Andrea Fagan

Women Invent 100 2018

Andrea Fagan of Bank of America Merrill Lynch during a lecture on Python. Image: Python Ireland/YouTube

Passionate about careers in STEM and a pivotal leader within the Dublin chapter of Women in Technology & Operations (WIT&O), Andrea Fagan’s native curiosity led her to study natural sciences and botany at Trinity College Dublin.

Studying science gave her the grounding to become a Python developer with Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML), where she is assistant vice-president and a big-data software developer on the global risk analytics team.

Under the umbrella of WIT&O, an employee-run advocacy group, Fagan encourages young people to pursue a career in technology, runs evening coding programmes for university students and co-workers and also teaches school children how to operate Raspberry Pi devices. She is also a lead instructor with CodeFirst:Girls.

Ruthe Farmer

Ruthe Farmer

Ruthe Farmer, chief evangelist, CSforAll consortium. Image: Claudio Montesano Casillas/ITU Pictures/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

For more than 20 years, Ruthe Farmer has overseen major STEM projects in the US, starting with the Girl Scouts, where she oversaw the introduction of a national Lego robotics programme and helped scale out the Intel Design and Discovery engineering programme to 63 locations. She also established a major expo for thousands of girls, called GirlFEST.

Since finishing a stint as the senior adviser for tech inclusion to the White House, she is now the chief evangelist for the CSforAll consortium.

Ruth Freeman

Ghostbusters: Ruth Freeman, director of strategy and communications at Science Foundation Ireland

Dr Ruth Freeman. Image: SFI

Dr Ruth Freeman is the director of innovation, communications and education at SFI. Freeman acts as a positive role model for young women interested in STEM, often taking part in public debate on science.

A voice for the importance of having more women in STEM, Freeman serves as SFI’s spokesperson for a number of female-focused workshops and events, including I Wish, the Irish Girl Guides and CodePlus Mentoring, a project that aims to promote awareness and interest in computer science in girls’ secondary schools.

Merrilyn Goos

One of Ireland’s most forward-thinking mathematicians is Prof Merrilyn Goos, who was recently appointed as the director of the Epi-Stem, a national hub for research, policy and leadership in STEM teaching and learning.

The Australian academic is an internationally recognised mathematics educator whose research is known for its theoretical innovation and strong focus on classroom practice. Goos has published a body of work relating to teaching mathematics effectively for diversity, managing issues of inequality and developing effective relationships with parents and the community.

Heather Heenehan

Heather Heenehan

Dr Heather Heenehan, postdoctoral scientist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and science communicator. Still from ‘“Just Listen”: Heather Heenehan’. Image: Duke Graduate School/YouTube

One of the most dedicated science communicators out there, particularly when promoting women in STEM, has to be Dr Heather Heenehan. When not working as a postdoctoral scientist at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in the US, she devotes a lot of time to STEM outreach programmes. She is also on the board of SciREN, which aims to foster science literacy, particularly in young girls.

In 2014, she was named by Skype as one of three women changing the world through technology for the development of a ‘Sounds of the Sea’ lessons programme conducted over the communications platform.

Anne-Marie Imafidon

Anne-Marie Imafidon

Anne-Marie Imafidon. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Stemettes CEO Anne-Marie Imafidon, a recently conferred MBE, is a prodigy in every sense of the word. At 11 years old, she was the youngest girl to ever pass A-level computing. At 20, she received her master’s degree in mathematics and computing from the University of Oxford. She then went on to positions with Hewlett-Packard, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

It was this wealth of experience that led her to co-found Stemettes, an initiative designed to encourage the next generation of girls to pursue STEM subjects.

Roya Mahboob

Roya Mahboob

Roya Mahboob, CEO of Afghan Citadel Software Company. Image: IntraHealth International/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Afghanistan’s first woman tech CEO made headlines across the globe last year for her tireless efforts to bring a group of enthusiastic young girls to the First Global Challenge – the ‘robotics Olympics’.

At the age of just 23, Mahboob was appointed the head of Afghan Citadel Software Company and has since put significant amounts of time and money into the Digital Citizen Fund to teach Afghan women and girls digital and financial skills. She recently announced a partnership with Ada-AI to build a STEAM school in the country to bridge the global gender gap in AI development.

Hanna Naima McCloskey

Hanna Naima McCloskey, Fearless Futures

Hanna Naima McCloskey. Image: Fearless Futures

“Sexual harassment happens because there’s an asymmetry of power,” said Hanna Naima McCloskey. This is why understanding power dynamics is so important, she explained, and it’s what has inspired her work educating girls through the organisation she founded, Fearless Futures.

Fearless Futures works with small groups of young women in secondary education for periods between eight and 13 weeks. During this time, the girls take part in exercises designed to help them overcome gender stereotypes and to build their confidence, the hope being that the early intervention will empower them to achieve their full potential in the future.

Mary McKenna

Mary McKenna

Mary McKenna. Image: Stephen Latimer

Co-founder of Northern Irish e-learning company, Learning Pool, Mary McKenna has received an MBE for her services to digital technology and education innovation. She exemplifies the spirit of a true entrepreneur and uses her expertise to help others.

‘We are living in very uncertain times in this corner of Europe and it’s hard to prepare our young people for jobs that don’t even exist yet. I’m happy to do anything that will improve their chances’

This year, she became entrepreneur in residence at St Mary’s College in Derry to share her skills with young people, encouraging other business figures to do the same. Her support of female founders and tech initiatives for the greater good is sure to inspire the next generation.

Paula Neary

Paula Neary

Paula Neary, MD, health and public service, Accenture Ireland. Image: Accenture

Managing director in Accenture’s Irish health and public service practice, Paula Neary has been the MD sponsor for the firm’s work promoting STEM inclusion for the past number of years. She has spearheaded an impressive number of initiatives, from leading research into attracting more women into the field, to Accenture’s STEM teacher internship programme, which gives teachers hands-on experience of STEM in the workplace.

‘I hope to be able to say in the next couple of years I have help changed the ratio of women’s participation in board and senior level’

Unoma Ndili Okorafor

Dr Unoma Ndili Okorafor

Dr Unoma Ndili Okorafor, CEO and founder of Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women. Image: WAAW

A driving figure encouraging more African women to define their own destiny is Dr Unoma Ndili Okorafor, CEO and founder of the organisation Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women (WAAW). The non-profit is dedicated to promoting STEM education for African women, and working to ensure that talent is engaged in technology on the African continent.

As an author of several international journals and conference papers while working for the likes of Intel, HP and IBM Research labs, Okorafor has spoken extensively on STEM at events such as SXSW and Ashoka Changemakers.

Norah Patten

Norah Patten

Planet Zebunar founder and astronaut in training, Dr Norah Patten. Image: Planet Zebunar

Ireland is yet to have its first astronaut, but one of those with a good chance of getting there is engineer and space professional Norah Patten. Never shy about telling her story or speaking of the training it takes to get to space, Patten is also a faculty member at the International Space University and co-chair of the Space Humanities Department for the Space Studies Program.

She initiated and coordinated ‘The Only Way is Up’ project at The Irish Centre for Composites Research through a partnership with NanoRacks, as well as founding an online resource called Planet Zebunar to teach kids about the wonders of space.

Taylor Denise Richardson

Taylor Denise Richardson

Taylor Denise Richardson. Image: Taylor Denise Richardson

Those attending Inspirefest 2018, get ready to be amazed by one of the world’s ‘rising star’ astronauts in training: 14-year-old Taylor Denise Richardson. With aspirations to make it into space one day soon, Richardson had already visited four different NASA centres by the age of nine.

Until she can make it into orbit, she balances her life between her education and engagements as a STEM advocate, speaker, activist and philanthropist. Richardson is also a role model for the Lottie Dolls Astro Adventures campaign, which is inspiring girls to dream big in STEM all over the world.

Becky Sage

Becky Sage

Becky Sage. Image: Bristol Temple Quarter

Dr Becky Sage is the CEO of Bristol-based Interactive Scientific, an edtech company working to make science communication fun and accessible to all. Sage developed Nano Simbox, an immersive platform that enables people to explore the invisible scientific underpinnings of atoms and molecules.

Sage trained as a scientist, but quickly became disillusioned by the lack of diversity in scientific research environments. One of the driving factors of her work is her belief that science needs to be democratised for the benefit of our future society.

Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. Image: Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, which she set up in 2012 to address her concerns that young girls would be left behind in the technological revolution because of archaic gender roles.

‘At a time where there’s so much innovation, women are being left behind. I wanted to do something about it’

From just 20 girls in the heart of New York City, Girls Who Code has now reached tens of thousands of young women across North America. Clubs from Oklahoma to Massachusetts help girls learn new skills and practise self-belief. It is thriving and growing every year and is already producing alumnae who pursue computer science at third level, many of whom receive full scholarships.

Niambh Scullion

Niambh Scullion. Image:

Niambh Scullion is the co-founder – alongside Sarah Doran and Noel King – of CoderDojo Girls in DCU. CoderDojo Girls follows the model of the global CoderDojo, but caters specifically to girls, encouraging and supporting them as they grow in confidence and develop their interest in STEM.

Scullion’s advocacy for young women doesn’t stop there, as she is also an adviser for Teen-Turn, mentioned above. Last year, Teen-Turn was named EU Digital Impact Organisation of the Year.

Caroline Spillane

Caroline Spillane, Engineers Ireland

Caroline Spillane. Image: Engineers Ireland

Caroline Spillane is director general of Engineers Ireland, and the first woman to hold the role. Spillane often speaks about outdated attitudes and stark gender imbalances within the engineering sector, and seeks to change that by encouraging women to pursue these careers.

‘Positive role models can be a powerful way to demonstrate the potential of a career in engineering to young people’

Engineers Ireland recently partnered with the Irish Girl Guides. Spillane said: “Engineering is about working collaboratively, being creative and finding new ways to solve problems, and the Irish Girl Guides is a dynamic and community-focused organisation which very much shares these values.”

Ellen Stofan

Ellen Stofan

Ellen Stofan, STEM advocate and former chief scientist of NASA. Image: NASA

As a planetary geologist and NASA’s chief scientist up to December 2016, Ellen Stofan is a true inspiration to the girls and women she encourages to pursue a possible dream career.

Since leaving NASA, Stofan has increased her public speaking engagements to create greater awareness of space-related issues and how they could be bolstered with greater numbers of women involved in research. “We need to highlight women who were and are role models … as well as the women who work at NASA to drive our Curiosity rover on Mars,” she said in 2016.

Susan Wu

Susan Wu. Image: Startup Grind/YouTube

Susan Wu is a start-up veteran and investor who has worked with some of the best founders in the business. She has advised some of the biggest companies in tech including Twitter, Square and Medium. She has also spoken about sexual harassment and the struggles women face within the tech and start-up industry.

‘There is such a massive imbalance of power that women in the industry often end up in distressing situations’

Most recently, Wu is the co-founder of a new education model and school system with no homework. The Lumineer Academy team – which includes educators, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers – is working together to reimagine education to empower children to thrive in and build the world of the future.

Malala Yousafzai

Apple to support Malala Fund’s goal of educating 100,000 girls

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Image: Apple

Malala Yousafzai has been championing girls’ education since the age of 11, when the Taliban overran her hometown of Mingora, Pakistan, and threatened to destroy the schools. Shot in the head for her campaigning, Yousafzai became a global figurehead in the fight for girls’ rights to education and, later, the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

‘My dream is for every girl to choose her own future’

Formalising her cause, Yousafzai has established the Malala Fund, which champions every girl’s right to 12 years of free, safe, quality education. This year, the fund announced Apple as its first laureate partner along with plans for global expansion.


Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Get your Early bird tickets now to join us in Dublin on 21 and 22 June 2018.

Updated, 10.18am, 8 March 2018: This article has been amended to correct the origins of Girls Hack Ireland.