To mark International Women’s Day during Engineers Week, SiliconRepublic.com takes a look at some of the leading women in the sector.
Every year, International Women’s Day comes with a flurry of pitches around women in STEM, comments from women leaders and general discussions around being a woman in a particular field.
With ongoing gender diversity – and other diversity – issues within many sectors including STEM, these are undoubtedly worthy discussions to have and it’s good to put the spotlight on these issues. But it has to happen more than once a year.
Silicon Republic takes pride in showcasing the diversity within the STEM sector all year round, including a weekly profile of leading, interesting and pioneering women in STEM. And while the topic of gender diversity may come up organically, we want to focus on the work that they do in the field.
Having said that, it would be remiss of us not to use International Women’s Day as an opportunity to highlight some of these fantastic women and, as it’s also Engineers Week, what better time to focus on some of the incredible women in engineering that we have spoken to in the past?
Jessica McCarthy was appointed engineering site lead at Google’s base in Dublin, having previously held the position of senior engineering director within site reliability engineering at Google.
She joined the company in 2019 after more than a decade at Intel as a senior staff research scientist and principal investigator with Intel Labs Europe.
In an interview with SiliconRepublic.com last year, she said she was first drawn to engineering because it was all about problem-solving.
“Engineering makes great things happen. When you have the skills and ability to solve big problems, you get the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives and experiences of people around the world.”
Fionnghuala O’Reilly was 15 years old when she first learned what it meant to be an engineer. Now, she is a NASA datanaut and a correspondent on US STEM TV show Mission Unstoppable.
Having previously been crowned Miss Universe Ireland, O’Reilly is a passionate advocate for bringing your whole self to a STEM career, rather than keeping different sides of your personality separate.
Having previously been named an Engineers Week ambassador, SiliconRepublic.com interviewed her in 2021, where she spoke about navigating the worlds of engineering and modelling as a woman of colour.
“Very early on, I knew that I was one of the few women of colour in the places and spaces where I was learning and where I was studying. And so I was passionate about creating more spaces for people like me because I felt the unfortunate feelings of feeling like the odd person out.”
Having worked in the engineering sector for about a decade, Andrea Graham is now a senior software engineering director at Workvivo, one of Ireland’s fast-growing start-ups.
Before joining Workvivo, Graham spent several years working as a software engineer at Dell EMC and has a degree in business information systems from University College Cork and an MBA from Munster Technological University.
Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com last year, Graham spoke about her own career in software engineering and importance of being an advocate for women in tech.
“For me, the biggest challenge is exposure and encouragement at the early education years. I’m a big advocate for women in tech and have been involved in great initiatives such as CoderDojo, STEM Aspire and IWish exposing and encouraging students at primary, secondary and third level into STEM.”
Part of the joy of working in engineering is that it can take you from the depths of the Earth to the skies above. Sinéad O’Sullivan’s area of engineering focuses on space-tech, currently working as professor of aerospace engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology.
Having studied at Queens University Belfast, O’Sullivan was previously research fellow at MIT’s College of Computing and MIT Sloan as well as a human spaceflight mission designer for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
In an interview with SiliconRepublic.com in 2020, she spoke extensively about her work around human spaceflight design. “You name it, I’ve had to deal with it,” she said.
“When you look at the number of missions we can make using these combinations, there are hundreds of millions of possible mission designs to choose from, and we need just one! My job was to create mathematical models to understand which mission design would be the ‘best’ from the millions, whilst working with time, budget and government constraints.”
Having previously held the position of president of Engineers Ireland, Prof Orla Feely recently made history by becoming the first woman president of University College Dublin.
Previously, Feely served as a professor of electronic engineering at UCD and holds a master’s degree and PhD from the University of California Berkeley, where her PhD thesis won the David J Sakrison Memorial Prize for outstanding and innovative research.
Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com last year, Feely said more focus and engagement needs to happen between professional bodies, engineering organisations and the education system.
“More collaboration and joined-up thinking is required to support our talented and qualified female engineers to remain and advance in the profession,” she said.
Michelle Concannon is a tech and machine learning expert with more than two decades of experience across Ireland, Europe, the US and Asia.
After holding senior positions at Optum, Cisco and Avaya, she went on to play a global engineering and product role in Microsoft’s cloud and AI organisation. Currently, she’s the global SVP of engineering at US health-tech company, which has set up a new base in Galway.
In an interview as part of our Leaders’ Insights series, Concannon spoke about the importance of improving diversity within the tech sector.
“Despite ongoing media attention and some genuine efforts to improve the situation, there is a lot of work still to do. For me, there is a big distinction between hiring diverse candidates and promoting an environment of inclusivity in the workplace, so I personally compartmentalise the two.”
Tríona Lally is a bioengineering professor at Trinity. In 2014, she secured an ERC Starting Grant for a five-year €1.5m project that will advance research in arterial fibre remodelling for vascular disease diagnosis and tissue engineering.
Lally was named as one of the ones to watch at the 2022 Trinity Innovation Awards. She works with a number of companies that are developing new technologies using research to answer unmet clinical needs.
“One particular innovative technology that we’re currently working on is with a collaborator who already has an established company called HomeTesting.ie,” she told SiliconRepublic.com.
“Often people struggle to get a sufficient amount of blood [for testing], so we are working on developing a device now that will enable you very quickly, very easily with a quick, cheap, disposable device to get that blood sample, which will then ensure that you have a successful testing subsequently.”
The first-ever woman to receive a PhD from the National Microelectronics Research Centre in 1993, Dr Ann Kelleher was also the first Irishwoman to be named as corporate vice-president at Intel.
More recently, Kelleher was named the first Irish person to be named Intel executive VP. She was also one of two winners of SFI’s St Patrick’s Day Science Medal in 2020.
She has a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a PhD in electrical engineering, all from University College Cork.
The Cork native is also general manager of Intel’s technology development team, where she leads Intel’s development efforts for its 7nm and 5nm projects.
Prof Aoife Ahern graduated first in her class with a first-class honours degree in civil engineering from Trinity College Dublin.
She is now the college principal of the College of Engineering and Architecture, and dean of engineering. She was the first woman to hold each of these roles in UCD when appointed in May 2019.
Ahern is also a senior researcher on the NexSys (Next Generation Energy System) project, which is a consortium led by the Energy Institute at UCD.
The project received €16m in funding in 2022, which Ahern said “will play an important role in achieving a just energy transition for Ireland, in both public and private enterprises”.
Claire Montgomery is the senior director of software engineering at G-P (Globalization Partners), having built up more than two decades of experience in enterprise application and service development.
Based in Belfast, Montgomery leads a team of software engineers and is responsible for the payroll area within the platform. One of her key tasks is to build high-performance engineering teams that can work together on making their platform better.
Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com, she said some of the challenges around having diverse teams are systemic from schools and universities.
“For us it’s really about how we can encourage, for instance, women who code to come through as our interns and graduates. And then also, having a diverse panel so that when candidates come in for interviews, they can see that diversity.”
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