Empowering women through technology

Will STEM sell to women? Mind the pun.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics; fields that are traditionally seen as male dominated.

It’s the question web entrepreneur Joanna Norton and other technology innovators are trying to answer.

Norton has taken a grassroots approach with Mobile Learning Week, a campaign documenting how different types of Irish women use mobile technology, showing that a literacy in technology and science is closer to them than they think. “We’re trying to get an intersection of women represented, and empower women through mobile technology.”

The campaign is part of an international conference by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It will hold talks and workshops in Paris this month to promote women in the technology sector. Innovation in an unlikely place.

For her campaign, Norton visited St. John of God services, for adults with intellectual disabilities and met Sarah Boland, who has been changing the lives of residents.

Boland, an assistive technology creator, made Link2Me, a website to increase the employability of the John of God residents online. Link2Me is a highly ambitious project which has garnered a LinkedIn sponsorship after beating 300 entries for the Innovation Award last year. It has a text reader and transcription feature to help adults with literacy issues.

She also developed an app for safe travel called WayBuddy, and has been called a God-send by her coworkers.”I originally came to develop WayBuddy, but I quickly changed my remit to broaden their use of technology.”

“Link2Me stared because one of the residents didn’t have the literacy skills to have letters sent to his house, but to his parents. It was causing a lot of stress for him. We made Link2Me and it just snowballed.”

Norton was impressed by the innovation she discovered in the unlikely setting.

“What they’re doing is profound. How many people are going to take a trip down here? Innovative women are not getting recognition.”

DCU welcomes women in STEM

DCU will host its own event aimed at promoting STEM to girls this March with the free event Girl Hack Ireland, which will attempt to welcome girls aged 15-17 into the coding world.

Organiser Ruth Blayney explained the concept: “The participants will be set a challenge based on the concept of ‘New Ireland’. We’re leaving it absolutely open to interpretation on the day.

“The girls will have plenty of scope in being creative with the theme, the event is open to those with or without coding experience.”

A 2013 Accenture survey found that out of the 117,000 Irish jobs in STEM, less than 25 per cent of women occupy them. It found that a disinterest in STEM subjects sprang from an early belief that they were boys’ subjects while in school.

Girl Hack researcher, Suzanna Little explained that although her gender was never an obstacle, it made her standout in her work: “I studied IT in Australia where I was one of five females in a class of 50. It can be intimidating being the only girl in a lecture.

“People make assumptions about your role, confusing you for a scribe or tester, rather than a technician or coder.”

With its decidedly feminine, quirky advertisement, Blayney wanted to challenge the image of a typical hackathon. “We wanted something different, and eye-catching.”

By Aura McMenamin

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