Lack of women in STEM 'a big opportunity missed'

Founders of iWish Gillian Keating, Ruth Buckley and Caroline O'Driscoll with Students from Colaiste na Toirbhirte and Ursuline Secondary School, Cork City, at the first day of iWish 2019 at Cork City Hall. Pic: Clare Keogh

Firms are missing out on key ingredients to maximising business by not employing more women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), a leading firm in Cork has said.

Donal Sullivan, vice president and general manager of Johnson Controls Ireland, said STEM qualifications “will be the key that unlocks the doors” of a range of new careers in the next decade, and that women had to be at the forefront of the revolution.

Mr Sullivan was speaking as the annual iWish conference took place at Cork City Hall, aimed at encouraging more female students into STEM careers.

“There are all kinds of new careers emerging in the sciences, many more will be created in the next 10 years. With the emergence of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, these new technologies and skills will disrupt existing business models, and STEM qualifications will be the key that unlocks the doors to these new careers,” Mr Sullivan said.

“Equally it becomes a passport to the world, there is a global skills shortage, so market forces will dictate that these skills will be needed and sought out. Being digitally literate with an ability to work with technology, do some coding, develop user experiences or interfaces, are skills that almost every company will need to some degree.

“These are transferable, marketable skills that the world needs, and can take you everywhere and anywhere you want to go,” he added.

Half of Johnson Controls Ireland staff in Cork are women, with over 40% of its engineers.

Johnson Controls creates intelligent buildings, efficient energy and infrastructure, and next-generation transportation system for smart cities and communities, employing 120,000 globally. Cork staff are based in Ireland’s so-called smartest building, One Albert Quay.

Mr Sullivan said: “For us from a talent perspective, if we’re not getting gender balance then we’re missing a big opportunity. If we don’t have great female representation, it’s not good for us intellectually, it’s not good from a product perspective, it’s not good for us from a workplace perspective and we leave key ingredients behind, which just makes no sense for us.”

Among the iWish event speakers was Pamela Myers of Johnson Controls.

Pamela Myers of Johnson Controls

With a degree in Fine Art from Limerick School of Art and Design and a postgraduate degree in Computer Science from UCC, Ms Myers has been working with Johnson Controls in technical communications for four years.

She said she wanted to dispel the myth that people are “either creatively or technically minded”.

“I think many people who excel at language and the arts get the idea that science and technology is not for them.

“You are not necessarily one or the other. There are already many roles within the technology industry that are highly creative and as technology becomes more integrated into our personal lives and areas like artificial intelligence expand, the demand for those with skills in technology and the humanities will grow.”

Oana Secara, senior user experience designer for Johnson Controls also shared her insights with attendees.

“I refuse to accept that there is anything that a woman cannot do. In the past I experienced what it’s like to be the only woman in my professional setting. I want to do what I can to change that in the future,” Ms Secara said.

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