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More female role models needed in STEM to deliver diverse talent pipeline

Student research from WiSTEM2D programme highlights challenges facing women in STEM

UL students Janice O’Gorman, Pharmaceutical and Industrial Chemistry, Jessica Silva, Biomedical Engineering and Niamh Sheahan, Aeronautical Engineering are pictured as Year 2 of the university’s WiSTEM2D collaboration with global healthcare company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) begins. Photo: Alan Place

Global healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and University of Limerick (UL) today entered the second year of their collaborative education WiSTEM2D programme. The acronym refers to Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design, and is part of J&J’s commitment to building a diverse WiSTEM2D community by mobilising brilliant minds that ignite great ideas.

“The research outputs from the first year of the WiSTEM2D programme identified a lack of female role models in STEM-related fields and confirmed that men outnumber women in most STEM careers,” according to the President of UL, Dr Desmond Fitzgerald.

“Of particular concern, however, is that female students participating in the study reported feeling isolated in male-dominated classes and, perhaps most worryingly, females’ perception of their own intelligence was poor, even though their grades were equal to those of their male counterparts.

“We need to build on these findings, which mirror other national research, and affect change in order to attract women into STEM courses,” said Dr Fitzgerald.  “UL is a national leader in promoting gender equality and diversity across all academic disciplines. We are delighted to be involved once again with J&J in this fantastic initiative and we look forward to a doubling of the numbers of students involved in the WiSTEM2D programme in Year 2.”

At a national level, just 25% of people currently working in STEM-related careers in Ireland are women. Student research carried out at UL during Year 1 of the WiSTEM2D programme highlighted that in 2016/2017 female students accounted for just 26% of undergraduates in the Science and Engineering faculty. The research also found that less than 6% of female students opted for Electronic and Computer Engineering, 9% for Computer Science, 18% for Financial Mathematics, and 35% for Environmental Science.

Jessica Silva, Biomedical Engineering, Janice O’Gorman, Pharmaceutical and Industrial Chemistry and Niamh Sheahan, Aeronautical Engineering. Photo: Alan Place

J&J currently partners with 10 universities around the world to encourage and support female undergraduates enrolling in STEM-related disciplines. UL is the only Irish university chosen to participate in the global initiative which focuses on the importance of peer networking and mentoring support.  The University of Limerick is at the forefront of STEM education in Ireland with EPI*STEM, the National Centre for STEM education based in UL.

Speaking on behalf of the Year 1 students, Niamh Sheahan said, “Being part of the WiSTEM2D programme has provided so many amazing opportunities for me and I look forward to passing on all I’ve learned, and to passing on the empowering message to those following in my footsteps.”

Speaking at today’s event, the Minister for Higher Education at the Department of Education, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor TD, said, “Many of the world’s most innovative enterprises are in the STEM disciplines and we need more women choosing to pursue STEM careers in Ireland. The under-representation of women in the STEM workforce has to be addressed.  This partnership between Johnson & Johnson and UL, which focuses on increasing the number of female STEM graduates, is an excellent example of higher education and business working together to address this problem.”

A key aim of the programme is to inspire young women to bring diversity of ideas and opinions to typically male-dominated STEM careers.  Speaking on behalf of J&J at the event, Mark Benson, VP Supply Chain, Consumer Medical Devices said, “Recognising that increasing female participation in STEM subjects remains a global challenge and women are greatly under-represented in the STEM workforce in Ireland, we are very excited to be partnering with the University of Limerick to help close these gaps and build the professional STEM talent pipeline At J&J, diversity and inclusion is a core tenet of our management philosophy.

“We are focused on bringing unique perspectives and a sense of belonging to the workplace. It’s about all backgrounds, beliefs and the entire range of human experience coming together.”

Leisha Daly, PhD and Country Director of Janssen Ireland, the pharmaceutical company of J&J, said “As we look towards the workforce of the future, we are more committed than ever to supporting women in STEM, particularly as we see that increased pipeline needs will not be satisfied by current graduation rates or population mix of STEM leaders. There is palpable excitement across J&J in Ireland for WiSTEM2D – upwards of 300 employees have come forward to volunteer their time and energy to this great initiative. I very much look forward to continuing this exciting collaboration with UL and building on our significant achievements as we embark on Year 2 of the programme.”

UL student Jessica Silva, Biomedical Engineering (centre) with, Liz Dooley, Director Operations Janssen Sciences Ireland and Dr Regina Kelly, Science Education Project Officer, EPI*STEM at the National Centre for Stem Education. Photo: Alan Place

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