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My wish: Increase participation of girls and women in STEM

By Paula Neary, Managing Director, Health and Public Service, Accenture Consulting, Dublin


"If you liked solving problems and fixed the Christmas tree lights, maybe a career in engineering would suit you, and so that’s what I did."

My wish for gender diversity is to get more girls and young women involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). All statistics show that the percentage of girls and women participating in STEM, both in education and in careers, is actually decreasing. And the research also shows that in the future about 70 percent of all jobs will be STEM-related. So young girls and women are making decisions through their education that actually mean those opportunities won’t be there for them. As a society, we also risk missing out on the diverse thinking and the creativity that women bring to solving a problem.

I am very lucky to have a fantastic mother who put a lot time into making sure I realized my potential. I wanted to study honors math and physics, but in the all girls’ school that I was attending, you didn’t have that choice. So my mother changed me to an all boys’ school, where I could study the subjects. While I didn’t appreciate it at the time—leaving my friends behind—it was a great intervention for me.

Likewise, when I was choosing my degree to go into college, the career guidance teacher recommended I become a primary school teacher since it was a good career for women. Yet my favorite subjects were math and physics. So my mother put a lot of time into looking up career options. It talked about solving problems and said that if you fixed the Christmas tree lights, a career in engineering would suit you, and so that’s what I did.

I was lucky to be able to study a subject that has given me a skillset where I have had a fantastic career and can make a difference in the world through the work I do. I think that’s something most girls and women would like to do.

My wish for the future is that we increase the participation of girls and women in STEM. I also hope that I have the same positive impact on my two little girls that my mother had on me.