A free virtual event aimed at showcasing the potential of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) to teenage girls has taken place in Dublin.
The eighth annual I Wish event at the RDS in Dublin included speakers Brenda Romero of Romero Games, human rights and climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson, and Coillte chief executive Imelda Hurley, along with representatives from companies such as Google, Stryker, AWS, Dell Technologies, Merck and Novartis.
The project started in 2015 with 1,000 students; this year more than 16,000 students have registered to take part, with a full programme accessible through the event’s virtual hub.
The programme has expanded in recent years to include outreach activities, mentorship programmes, laptop donations, further education programmes and showcase events.
Among the findings of a recent I Wish survey is that three-quarters of teenage girls feel a lack of subject choice is a barrier to a career in Stem. Other factors include a lack of role models.
“One of the things that comes across very strongly is just a lack of awareness among girls about Stem careers,” said Caroline O’Driscoll, cofounder of I Wish. “Role modelling is really important. Girls want to see female role models and actually not having female role models is a barrier.” The organisation’s research has also found nearly 80 per cent of girls say they’re not confident in their ability to do Stem, making mentorship and internship programmes even more important.
“The power of the community has been extraordinary. Companies that have helped us over the years – it’s been brilliant, there’s a real willingness to want to get involved. That sparked us to set up the mentorship programme.”
I Wish co-founder Gillian Keating said companies were becoming increasingly aware of the value of a diverse workforce.
“Year on year we see a real awareness among the executives that we’re dealing with directly on the importance of having a very inclusive and diverse workforce,” she said. “That’s not just coming from their own operations. It’s also a realisation now that unless women are included and to the fore of developments in technology and science, it’s not going to be the very best that it can be, and it’s not going to represent our needs in the best ways.”
Getting girls engaged sooner was critical, the organisation said. Globally, of the 20 fastest growing careers, 15 require a background in math or science.