Cian Twomey at the Girls in STEM event
TY student Tori Byrne snaps a selfie with Cian Twomey at Accenture's Girls in STEM event. Photo via Naoise Culhane

Event shows girls why they are essential to progress in STEM

29 Jan 2016

Accenture invited more than 500 young girls and their teachers to explore science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and see first-hand the opportunities that are there.

You could be a Nobel Prize-winning scientist or a vlogger on YouTube. You could even be both. But you can’t be any of these things without STEM.

With science, technology, engineering and maths underpinning so much of our daily lives, a grounding in these subjects offers a wealth of opportunity for the next generation – and it’s important that we don’t leave half of that demographic behind.

‘STEM is for boys’

Research from Accenture tells us that although 80pc of girls and young women believe that studying STEM subjects leads to good career opportunities, almost half (48pc) think that these subjects are more suited to male careers, with 29pc believing that they “fit boys’ brains better”.

This misperception is found in educators, parents and guardians too, and can easily go undetected.

“The career options linked to [STEM subjects] are still seen as ‘boy jobs’,” said Paula Neary, a managing director at Accenture Ireland.

“This event, bringing together business and academia, aims to dispel that myth for girls and their teachers.”

Changing perceptions in the UK and Ireland

To challenge this ‘STEM is for boys’ attitude, Accenture welcomed 1,800 girls across the UK and Ireland to participate in special one-day events for Girls in STEM.

What started last year as one event in Newcastle has spread to London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Dublin, bringing young girls and their teachers together to address this issue through panel discussions, workshops and hackathons.

Accenture Girls in STEM event

Paula Neary, Accenture, with Minister Damien English, TD, and TY students Katie D’arcy and Precious Okonkwo. Photo via Naoise Culhane

The events were devised in partnership with Stemettes, an organisation founded by Anne-Marie Imafidon.

“The strong attendance at so many locations shows the need for these events nationally. I’m excited to be bringing these girls on their own personal Stemette journeys, hopefully ending up in industry,” she said.

Imafidon is herself guiding young women into STEM sectors as business leaders through Outbox Incubator, which she co-founded with Inspirefest speaker Mary Carty.

The Inspirefest team even joined the Girls in STEM event, offering a chance to win tickets to the event this summer in Dublin, but also to connect with young women and find out about their goals for the future.

Given the lean on STEM education and the recent push for self-starters in Irish business, it was encouraging to see the girls had ambitions to be structural engineers, doctors, forensic scientists, entrepreneurs and “something maths-y”.

Students at the Girls in STEM event were given just a taste of what can be achieved in STEM, with demos from Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, Daqri’s 4D body-scanning technology and 3D printing, plus a mini science-based magic show from Dublin Maker co-organiser ‘Laser Laura’.

The girls were also invited to explore applied maths with the Maths Bungee and take part in science experiments.

Facebook superstar Cian Twomey was on-hand to offer his support to the cause, while Minister of State Damien English, TD, emphasised the importance of involving more of the next generation in the future of STEM.

Fixing the pipeline

“We’re only one-tenth of the way we’re going to go with technology and there’s so many exciting developments ahead. They should be part of it, and we need them to be part of it,” said Minister English.

“It’s a great event here today and they’re getting a taste of what’s on offer. We will certainly get a lot more STEM graduates coming out of today, I have no doubt about that,” he added.

That’s really what the goal is for an event like Girls in STEM. Accenture – which recently announced 250 jobs in Dublin – has the business’s best interests at heart. Like many other companies based in Ireland, Accenture needs to address the overall skills shortage in STEM – and ensuring that as many people as possible take up these subjects in school can help.

Sadly, though, a prolific pipeline of Girls in STEM is just one part of the problem, with statistics this week confirming the ‘boys’ club’ nature of investment in Ireland. The fact remains that if these girls are to fulfill their dreams and become women in STEM, other barriers must be broken down.

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Open Eir (formerly Eircom Wholesale), Fidelity Investments, Accenture and CoderDojo.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Get your Early Bird tickets now.

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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