‘Business, sciences need more women’

First International Women’s Business Conference at Rose event

More women are urgently needed in the traditionally male-dominated areas of business, politics and STEM subjects, according to a myriad high-profile speakers at the Rose of Tralee’s first International Women’s Business Conference.

Reigning Rose Maria Walsh was one of the driving forces behind the event, which featured a wide range of speakers from Irish and international businesses.

“I think it’s something we were missing in the festival for a number of years. I think it’s great,” said Maria. “You hear the likes of Norah Casey or Julie Sinnamon speak or Jim Breen speak and you think if they can do it, why can’t I? And then you have an increase in people getting into these different areas.”

Speaking at the one-day conference, organised by Enterprise Ireland, former Rose of Tralee Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain said parents should encourage any interest their daughters show in the areas of science, technology, engineering or maths.

“I wanted to become a teacher. I did my PhD and that’s what’s important to me now. I studied theoretical physics and I want more women to study science, mathematics and engineering specifically because girls are tempted to go towards biology and chemistry,” she said.

“Girls are a little bit more reticent and you can see that in maths class if you’re a secondary school teacher. The girls, they have the answer 10 minutes ago but they won’t put up their hand just in case they don’t get it right.”

Ni Shuilleabhain, who is celebrating 10 years since she was crowned Rose of Tralee, said this shows females need to be empowered more and given the confidence needed to speak up.

“We often don’t put ourselves forward for things but I think we should. It’s so important. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re the right person for the job, go for it anyway. You’re going to learn from it either way,” she said.

“I became Rose of Tralee when I was 22. I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable in my own skin but I was so happy to be there. But being part of the festival made me identify what I felt most strongly about.”

TV presenter Mary Kennedy, who also spoke at the event, said she sees “endless potential” in empowered Irish women, partly because she is always “so impressed” with the confident young ladies she meets in her role as judge for the Rose of Tralee competition.

“I have been in awe of the young people that present themselves. These are women who, in their 20s, have achieved a huge amount, are full of energy, are caring and are just chomping at the bit to get out and to go and to do. And it’s a generation of women of which we can be very proud,” she said. “There are times when a young woman would come into the judging room and we’d chat and then she’s leave and you kind of look at your fellow judges and say ‘What did I do with my life?’.”

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