Efforts to achieve equal representation in Stem continue to face challenges

Efforts To Achieve Equal Representation In Stem Continue To Face Challenges
Colleagues at MSD Biotech in Dublin at its all-Ireland early talent annual summer BBQ
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Fiona Croke, global talent acquisition lead for Ireland, discusses the progress made, the road ahead and the role MSD Ireland is playing in levelling the playing field

The conversation around women in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) has been ongoing for some time. What progress has been made, and what still needs to happen?


I believe there’s been significant progress made, particularly in the last five years, in highlighting the opportunities for those who choose a career or education in Stem.

From an MSD Ireland perspective, we’ve seen a rise in female engineers joining our business and more women in Engineering, Technology and Manufacturing at a senior level across our organisation and network, which is moving in the right direction.

But if we take a step back and look across Ireland and elsewhere, the gender gap at Leaving Certificate and third-level is present and women are still under-represented in physics, technology and engineering.

Ireland is an incredibly buoyant hiring market, which is fantastic, but we need to put measures in place to really start seeing the dial fundamentally shift to a more gender-balanced workforce in Stem positions in the next 10 to 15 years.


How would you foresee that gap being addressed?

For me, this is where there are opportunities to influence young females in primary and secondary schools about careers in Stem – be honest, transparent and in turn hopefully inspire them. Not to generalise, but in a lot of instances – and even for me personally – I champion women stepping into the spotlight and believe in the ethos of “if I can see it, I can be it”.

Unfortunately, there are still stereotypes about women’s abilities that start from a young age and this can undermine their confidence in subjects such as maths.

Early influence is key in supporting more young women to choose a career in Stem.


"From an MSD Ireland perspective, we’ve seen a rise in female engineers joining our business," says Fiona Croke, global talent acquisition lead.

How early do we need to see major attempts to tackle the imbalance?

I believe attempts need to happen even before formal education starts; gender stereotypes are still evident in Ireland. Women have a unique opportunity to empower others to raise their profile through education, awareness, training and influence.

We need to break the ceiling when it comes to supporting young women in choosing pathways which lead to careers in Stem at all levels.


Continuous reimagining of skills-based teaching and curriculum review in line with market/critical skills trends coming into the Irish domain are essential. In short, we all have a role to play.

What does MSD Ireland do to advance the cause?

MSD Ireland has a number of programmes designed to encourage females to consider a career in Stem. Examples include proudly sponsoring a rotating secondary schoolteacher who joins our manufacturing business to work in an operations role and learn our business from the ground up.

This provides a unique insight and gives them an opportunity to go back to their students and teach young women what a career in biologics manufacturing really entails, and that’s powerful.


We partner with Ireland’s leading universities and technical colleges to elevate our brand as an employer of choice for early career graduates, whilst also working with Government-funded programs such as Solas in creating apprenticeship programs.

The apprentice programme has grown significantly in the last number of years, particularly in some of our manufacturing sites and by using storytelling and day-in-the-life testimonials; we are seeing more and more female applications and successful hires across engineering and maintenance.

Our sites have a unique relationship with local community schools and regularly support events, partnering on career talks etc. Additionally, MSD Ireland has a fantastic weeklong TY programme we run annually with 80+ students coming to our Irish sites; it’s interactive and fun and we hope it inspires young men and women to consider a career in Stem.

Is that also where programmes like Junior Achievement Ireland and The Big Idea come in?

Yes, absolutely! The Big Idea and JAI are fantastic programmes that we’re proud to collaborate with.

Programmes such as these enhance opportunities for pathways into Stem careers, whilst focusing on supporting key skills development in education which complement academic pathways such as resilience, flexibility and open-mindedness, teamwork, confidence and much more which are all essential ingredients in the workplace.

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