‘Female industry voices need to be promoted and more accessible’

12 Oct 2023

Jacqui O'Connor: Image: MedScan3D

With days to go before National Women’s Enterprise Day, we speak to Jacqui O’Connor about promoting women in STEM entrepreneurship.

Jacqui O’Connor was on maternity leave for the second time in two years when she established her own start-up, MedScan3D, back in 2019. Today, many important milestones and awards later, the 3D printing company services more than 40 medical groups with its patient-specific anatomical models.

It is not surprising therefore that O’Connor has come to be a strong proponent of not just increasing the participation of women in the upper echelons of business, but also of creating a more inclusive workplace where women have the flexibility to be both mothers and successful business leaders.

“The proportion of women CEOs has increased [to] 19pc in 2023, showing that Irish businesses continue to increase female representation at senior levels,” O’Connor, the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Galway ambassador for National Women’s Enterprise Day (NWED), tells SiliconRepublic.com.

According to PwC’s latest Women in Work Index published earlier this year, Ireland ranks 12th among OECD countries for gender equality in the workplace. The gender pay gap in Ireland is now at 6.9pc, well below the OECD average of 14pc.

But O’Connor cautions that there is “still a lot of room for improvement” as women are still significantly underrepresented in boards of directors and chair positions.

“Data from this year’s Women in Work Index identifies harmful gender norms and the motherhood penalty to the cost of childcare and parental leave policies which needs to be overcome,” she says.

“As the NWED LEO Galway ambassador, I am dedicated to speaking to the younger generation and inspiring females to consider STEM as part of their future careers. I am a true believer that female industry voices need to be promoted and more widely accessible in schools and universities.”

To that end, O’Connor, who is a biomedical engineer by background, has spoken extensively about her entrepreneurial journey and the challenges faced by women in STEM entrepreneurship at events across Ireland.

Now, with days to go before National Women’s Enterprise Day kicks off on 19 October, O’Connor wants to use her ambassadorial position to highlight the need for a more inclusive culture in the workplace.

The idea behind the event is to promote women in entrepreneurship by hosting talks and discussions on a range of topics, from leadership and developing a strategic mindset to meeting challenges of digitalisation and transforming business in a low-carbon economy.

“Companies should be supported by the government to grant flexibility in the workplace and to promote female leadership roles,” says O’Connor, adding that the Government should look to Iceland’s many progressive gender policies for inspiration.

“Within the STEM community women are vastly underrepresented worldwide and we can change this by promoting engagement in technology at a younger age, making female role models accessible and inclusive workplace environments.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic