Empowering Girls Through STEM

26th April 2018

Posted In: In Your Opinion

At Microsoft, we seek to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. In living out that mission in Ireland, we are placing significant focus on empowering young people to push the boundaries of what’s possible by embracing technology.

Words: Christine Barrett, Microsoft

In opening up their eyes and minds to the new opportunities of our digital age, we can not only inspire them to dream of a better world, we can give them the tools to make that dream a reality. With 90% of tomorrow’s job requiring digital skills, it is time that all of Ireland’s talent pool possess skills of the future that ensure they succeed in any and all sectors they choose to work in.

However, as a society we face a significant obstacle in encouraging more girls to become excited by a future career in technology. Despite girls becoming interested in technology around the age of 11, they start to lose interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects around the age of 15. This fall-off severely limits the career and life choices of some of this country’s most creative young people.

With women only making up 30% of Europe’s ICT workforce today, Microsoft is committed to empowering young girls to choose a STEM-enabled career. For when we encourage girls to purse STEM, we double the potential to change the world for good.

That’s why to coincide with Girls in ICT Day we unveiled research pointing towards the importance of role models in driving interest in STEM amongst young girls.

46% of girls surveyed reported an interest in STEM subjects when inspired by a female peer.  However, only around 2:5 (42%) of Irish young women with a STEM role model actually work in STEM subjects, showing an ‘opportunity gap’ to convert the passion in the classroom into a future STEM career. Moreover, 3 out of 5 Irish girls with strong role models can imagine a future career in STEM.

With the research results in mind, we brought together 80 girls from 6th class to DreamSpace, our innovation and education hub at One Microsoft Place in Dublin. Students from St. Thomas’s SNS in Tallaght, Sacred Heart NS in Clondalkin and Guardian Angels NS in Blackrock had the opportunity to meet with young successful women who have blazing a trail by harnessing the power of creativity and technology.

Teenager Kate Madden showcased how her science project entry for the BT Young Scientist competition 2015 has turned into a successful business, FenuHealth, with a team of eight exporting to over four continents.

24-year-old COO of Junk Kouture Sara Ryan outlined how she harnessed technology to bring Irish creative design to everyone’s attention.

Students also heard from young Microsoft graduate employee Paula Kiernan about the job she does with Microsoft and her education background. Bernadette Thalhammer and Barbara de Kegel from Havok talked to students about new innovations and what exciting elements a day at work involves.

In bringing these young female role models from innovative sectors to DreamSpace, the talented young girls were left inspired to think differently about technology and STEM subjects generally as they make the move from primary to secondary school this coming year.

However, we want all young girls in Ireland to be excited by the transformational nature of technology and the possibilities of a STEM-enabled career.

That’s why earlier this month Microsoft has committed to bringing 100,000 primary and TY students to DreamSpace. Through an immersive digital skills experience at DreamSpace they will forge new critical-thinking and collaborative skills that will help them push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Through this experience, we hope not only to inspire the next generation to harness the power of technology, but to close the gender gap that currently exists in the ICT sector. By bringing technology and STEM subjects to life for young girls today, we can make dreams a reality for the female leaders of tomorrow.

For those of you who would like to embrace our STEM-enabled future, DreamSpace is open for any school to visit with tailored experiences for primary and TY students. I’d encourage any teacher or parents to make their child’s school aware of this exciting space and help them register for a visit at www.dreamspace.ie.

Christine Barrett is a WMB Ambassador, a champion for gender diversity – you can read more about our Ambassadors here>>