University of Limerick hosted its 11th annual International Women’s Day conference recently. The conference was supported by Johnson & Johnson, Northern Trust, Bank of Ireland and Dell EMC and was attended by hundreds of people from the business and education community. The keynote speaker was cervical cancer activist Dr Vicky Phelan and the conference was chaired by Catherine Duffy, CEO of Northern Trust, Limerick.
The event followed the International Women’s Day theme of #BalanceforBetter and tackled many of the issues facing women in the workforce and in society in general.
There were contributions from across industry and academia with topics like ‘Unconscious Bias, ‘Paid Parental Leave’, ‘The Importance of Vulnerability’ and ‘Broadening Diversity’ discussed. Expert panels also debated issues including ‘How to increase the number of senior women in organisations’ and ‘Does better balance mean better business’.
The J&J WiSTEM2D programme, which stands for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design, was established with the aim of providing additional support at undergraduate level and encouraging women into exciting STEM2D careers.
John Lynch, Plant Leader at Vision Care in Limerick spoke to the conference about ‘Broadening Diversity’ and the importance of giving women the chance to lead by championing women, celebrating women, partnering with women and giving women the freedom and inspiration to pursue their passions.
Speaking at the event, General Manager at Janssen Supply Chain, Liz Dooley said, “J&J is committed to building a diverse WISTEM2D community through a multifaceted approach, we meet females at pivotal development stages in their lives.
“The university pillar of the programme aims to inspire career paths by partnering with academic intuitions, such as UL, to develop high-impact strategies for recruiting, retaining and engaging women leaders and supporting young women in their pursuit of STEM2D degrees.
“We have partnered with UL for the past three years and we entered our first year of partnership with UCC this academic year. However, there still remains a lot of work to do to change perceptions among women about careers in STEM2D disciplines. On examining recent enrolment figures, there were no female entrants in the UL Civil Engineering course in the 2017/2018 academic year with only an 11.8% female enrolment rate in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.
“Research among undergraduate students in the J&J WiSTEM2D Programme informed us that over 75% of female students cited male-dominated environments, self-doubt and large class numbers as the three main factors negatively affecting their confidence.”
A number of second and third year UL students participating in the WiSTEM2D programme were presented with awards at the event. A group of 20 students from STEM-related courses were selected to participate in the WiSTEM2D Team Projects. The students worked in groups to produce five videos that aimed to specifically target stereotypes in design, engineering, biology, technology and chemistry. The students displayed their projects at the end of the conference with the winning team presented with a trophy and an additional bursary.
J&J is one of a number of companies that has been awarded top marks in a US study on gender equality. The Equileap study praised J&J for its approach to gender balance in the workforce, pay equity, parental leave and non-discriminatory hiring practices.
Head of Equality & Diversity at UL, Dr Marie Connolly said, “UL continues to maintain the top spot in gender equality in the Higher Education Sector and third in Europe in relation to gender balance as awarded by the Times University Teaching Rankings 2018.
“Our aim is to promote an organisational culture that emphasizes ethical practices, honesty, integrity, diversity, equity and respect for all in which people are valued and motivated to excel and achieve their full potential in a collegial and supportive environment.”
Tracey O’Connell, WiSTEM²D Program Co-Ordinator, EPI*STEM, University of Limerick added, “ The WiSTEM²D Program provides female undergraduate opportunities to grow as professionals in STEM and develop skills that will enhance their career prospects.
“Among the students, I have noticed a positive atmosphere where there is a sense of community. This reflects the University of Limerick‘s commitment with regards to gender equality and the inclusive positive environment on campus.
“The inspirational hard working young women on the programme are an example of the talent that is out there.”