Three young women sitting in chairs on a stage at Inspirefest. They are discussing life for women in STEM.
From left: Jennifer McCarthy, Anna O’Connor and Zainab Boladale. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

STEM’s next generation: ‘We shouldn’t be restricted due to our gender’

23 May 2019

BTYSTE Business Bootcamp winners took to the Inspirefest stage and spoke about the battle that still needs to be fought for women in STEM.

What will the future STEM world be like for the next generation? What do those who are already starting to make their mark in the world of STEM see in their future? What has their experience been like so far?

At Inspirefest 2019, that’s exactly what the Next Generation panel members were talking about. RTÉ TV presenter Zainab Boladale spoke to Jennifer McCarthy and Anna O’Connor, two winners from the BTYSTE Business Bootcamp earlier this year.

O’Connor, who won the Best Individual award for her project, said she was always interested in technology but was also inspired by humanitarianism. “I decided to combine it with something I knew, which was tech.”

Similarly, McCarthy, who was the project lead of the Best Group winners at the BTYSTE Business Bootcamp, said she was always interested in biology and chemistry, and wanted to make a difference. “We should all put ourselves in other people’s shoes.”

Listening to these young voices on stage at Inspirefest, it was impossible not to be impressed at their commitment and determination as they discussed how hard they worked on their projects. O’Connor said she worked on her project over the course of a year, while McCarthy said she spent “almost every day of the lovely hot summer we had working in the labs”.

While they talked about the hard work they put in, both young women were clearly relaxed about the dedication that was required, with O’Connor adding: “You just need to have that focus and keep doing it and keep the work up, and you just have to find that balance.”

More women in STEM

Boladale pointed out that she noticed a lot more young girls and women participating in BTYSTE this year, to which both panellists agreed. “It’s important to keep encouraging girls to take part of the exhibition and in STEM in general,” said McCarthy.

However, despite the positives of growing female participation, McCarthy and O’Connor both shared somewhat disappointing stories that proved a lot more still needs to be done for the future generations of women in STEM.

O’Connor spoke about a tech company she went to for work experience that said it doesn’t usually hire girls. Similarly, she spoke of her friend who went to an engineering company with two other boys and felt she wasn’t taken seriously – that was, until she fixed one of the boy’s phone covers when they weren’t able to.

“While we’ve come a long way for girls in STEM, there’s still a big battle to be fought,” said O’Connor. McCarthy echoed this, saying: “We shouldn’t be restricted due to our gender; we shouldn’t feel intimidated by our male counterparts.”

However, the panel did end on an incredibly positive note, with these two amazing young women proving that there is so much that can be done in STEM. “It’s not about finding all the answers to things – it’s about asking the right questions,” said McCarthy. “Do what you’re happy doing.”

Once again, O’Connor reaffirmed that inspirational sentiment, assuring the younger audience members that “if you have an idea you’re passionate about, that’s all that matters”.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2020 are available now.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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