Women in Technology and Science

Lifetime Achievement Awards - 2011

WITS presented its inaugural Lifetime Achievement award at a gala ball in Dublin on Saturday June 25th 2011, in recognition of the significant contribution made by Irish women in the area of technology and science.

Professor Dervilla Donnelly, Emeritus Professor of Organic Chemistry at UCD was the winner of the inaugural award, chosen from a list of twelve nominees drawn from a wide spectrum in the scientific world, noted for their work on a global level and recognised as key advocates in promoting the cause of increasing the number of women studying for careers in the world of science, technology and engineering and maths (STEM).

The judging panel was led by the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, Professor Patrick Cunningham.

Startling statistics have revealed that the levels of young women taking degrees in engineering and science in university have fallen to record low numbers, with women making up just 9% of undergraduate students on engineering courses at 3rd level according to current research. A recent publication by the Leadership Initiative found that Ireland is systematically under-employing educated women in the STEM area, as a result of the disparity in numbers across the sexes taking up careers in this area but also the high numbers of women opting leaving careers at various stages. The resulting low numbers of female representation at a senior level in the sector has a knock-on negative impact on input into the development of national STEM policy.

Other nominees included Regina Moran, CEO of Fujitsu Ireland; Professor Jane Grimson, Chair at the Centre for Health Informatics at Trinity College Dublin; Professor Susan McKenna-Lawlor, Emeritus Professor in Experimental Physics at NUI Maynooth and Dr. Sheila Willis, who has been Director of the Department of Justice Forensic Science Laboratory since 2002.

Speaking of the awards EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said, “I would like to warmly congratulate Women in Technology and Science for their untiring work in encouraging women to pursue STEM careers, and I congratulate each of the women nominated for the lifetime achievement award. However, these women are part of an all too small group. We face a gender emergency in science and research. Despite progress in many other areas, women are still seriously under-represented, especially in the STEM disciplines, and particularly at senior level in universities, research institutes and public services. As the European Commissioner responsible for Research, Innovation and Science I take this very seriously – not only because of the inherent inequality, but we also face a deficit of over 1 million researchers in Europe – we need women with STEM qualifications to meet this need that is so essential to our economic recovery.'

Speaking on the contribution of women to the area of science, technology, engineering and maths Sadhbh McCarthy, WITS Chairwoman (2011), said, “The role of WITS over the past 21 years has been to actively promote women in technology and science across the island of Ireland. Action in this regard has never been more urgent, with the STEM sector one of the areas that will drive our economic recovery. There is a vast amount of untapped potential in STEM areas amongst the women of Ireland, and we can see from the calibre of nominees for the Lifetime Achievement Award that Ireland has a proud tradition in producing pioneering women in this area.”