Over a thousand delegates from Ireland and further afield will attend a three-day festival in Dublin this week to celebrate diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Inspirefest 2015 will take place at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre this Thursday and Friday, and will be followed by a fringe festival each evening – and on Saturday morning – in Merrion Square.
Speakers at the event will include Shelly Porges, former advisor to Hillary Clinton; famed Northern Irish astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell; Kara Swisher co-executive editor of Re/Code recently acquired by Vox Media; video game developer Brianna Wu; and advertising giant and entrepreneur Cindy Gallop. Delegates are travelling from the US, UK, Europe and Africa to attend, where they will join a large local audience.
“STEM sector still not an inclusive environment”
Commenting today, Ann O’Dea, CEO of Silicon Republic, the organisation behind Inspirefest 2015, said the festival was intended to provide a platform for high achieving female leaders, and create a dialogue about barriers preventing women and minority groups into STEM - and how to overcome them.
According to Ann O’Dea, the ‘boys club’ mentality is still alive and well in the STEM sector globally, and this must be challenged in order to increase competitiveness, drive innovation and improve performance.
“It is an uncomfortable truth that the STEM sector is still not an inclusive environment, and barriers exist that are continuously preventing women and minority groups from entering, and succeeding in, this field. This flies in the face of the high demand for qualified professionals in the burgeoning STEM sectors, which is not being met by the current available workforce. Thankfully, many of our male counterparts are well aware of this challenge, and I’m delighted to say many of them will be with us on stage and among our delegates.”
Women are driving the world economy, with 85 per cent of brand purchases made by women, however women still face major obstacles in entering and progressing in key economic sectors. According to Ann O’Dea, there are a number of reasons for this: “Globally, STEM suffers from a lack of female participation, which has a real knock-on effect on industry with recent research indicating that here in Ireland, only 25 per cent of those working in science, technology and research are women. Furthermore, just 10 per cent of engineers in Ireland are women, and that figure falls even lower if you are talking about software engineers and computer programmers.”
“Changing the Ratio”: Keynote Speakers at Inspirefest
Inspirefest aims to challenge this status quo in the STEM sectors by featuring a speaker line-up and attendance list dominated by high-achieving women. The leaders on stage will be at least 75 per cent female, in this way reversing traditional conference trends and ‘changing the ratio’ of female representation at such gatherings.
This is, as stated by Ann O’Dea, vital in encouraging young women to consider these areas of science and technology. By giving a platform to female and minority group leaders, O’Dea hopes to spread the message that in a white male-dominated environment, it is “time to redress the imbalance on who has traditionally done what”.
“As a starting point, we need to start changing mind-sets and attitudes towards what engineers, scientists, mathematicians and tech professionals typically “look” like. It may seem superficial, but it has a huge impact. Girls and women need to be encouraged to study STEM subjects and understand that it is for them too – not just for boys – and that there are a range of opportunities available to them in these fields.”
It’s not just women and minority groups that are set to gain from an ‘imbalance redress’, but men too. O’Dea continued: “Recent research from The Kauffman Foundation indicates that high-tech companies with at least one female founder, actually perform better financially, and McKinsey research indicates that diverse teams lead to greater innovation and performance. Encouraging diversity in leadership means greater diversity of thought, skillsets and collaboration. Companies, societies and our economies are all set to benefit if we ensure that women feel more welcomed into these sectors, and encouraged to remain.”
In addition to those mentioned above, other keynote speakers at this week’s event include: Ariel Waldman, founder of Spacehack.org; Stephen C Neff, CTO, Fidelity Investments; Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code; and Bethany Meyer, President and CEO, Ixia – to name a few.
A host of Irish female leaders in business and STEM will also speak at the 2,000 capacity event, including: Margaret Burgraff, Vice President Leadership, Software, Intel; Julie Sinnamon, CEO, Enterprise Ireland; Niamh Bushnell, Dublin Commissioner for Start-ups; Mary Moloney, CEO, Coderdojo Foundation; Susan McKenna Lawlor, Astrophysicist, Founder Space Technology Ireland; Carolan Lennon, MD, Eircom Wholesale; and Louise Kenny, Director, Irish Centre for Fetal and NeoNatal Transnational Research (INFANT).
These world leaders will be joined by some of the leaders of tomorrow, including 10 year old coder Lauren Boyle, and Emer Hickey and Ciara Judge, two of the Irish school girls who won the international Google Science Fair.
In addition to the day-time events at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, anextensive fringe festival and outreach programme will bring together technology, design and the arts in Merrion Square Park, featuring talks and panel discussions with GLEN, Women For Election, Women on Air, WITS and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, film screenings including Robin Hauser Reynolds’ film ‘Code: Debugging the Gender Gap’ and documentary short ‘The Computers’, as well as music performances by leading Irish acts, Little Green Cars, Little Xs for Eyes, Loah, Inni-K and Katie Kim.
The Inspirefest Fringe will close on Saturday 20th June with a day of free workshops in Merrion Square Park, bringing together leading Irish STEM community groups: CoderDojo, DCU Girls Hack Ireland, TOG, Hardie Kids, Coding Grace, TCD Walton Club and Dublin Maker, along with Intel and Year of Light, who will host a whole range of activities including coding, hardware hacking and workshops.
For more information, visit www.inspirefest2015.com.