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Image / Editorial

The right role model means higher self-esteem and higher grades


by Colette Sexton
01st May 2018
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Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on why role models can inspire little girls to pursue careers in STEM.

Were you an X-Files fan in the 1990s? If so, the show might have been responsible for some extraterrestrial intelligence in your brain. Many women have said Dana Scully, a medical doctor turned FBI agent and one half of the famous Mulder and Scully duo, was their inspiration for entering careers in science, medicine and law enforcement.

The “Scully Effect” is not science fiction. Gillian Anderson, who played Scully, said at Comic Con in 2013 that the team gets letters all the time from women who say her character was a role model to them.

This is backed up by Microsoft Ireland’s research. Released last week to mark Girls in ICT day, it found that role models can forge an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects among young girls.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of Irish girls surveyed reported an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics when inspired by a female peer, in comparison to 38 per cent of girls who do not.

The research found that three out of five girls in Ireland with strong role models in their lives can imagine a future career in STEM. However, only around 42 per cent of Irish young women with a STEM role model actually work in STEM subjects. This showed an ‘opportunity gap’ to convert the passion in the classroom into a future STEM career.

Think back – who was your role model as a kid? Did someone inspire or encourage you to pursue the career that you are in? If you did have a role model, it is likely that you had higher self-esteem and higher grades as a result. And if that role model looked like you, it helped even more. Women are more inspired by outstanding female role models compared to male role models, according to a study in Psychology of Women Quarterly. In contrast, gender did not determine the impact of role models on male participants.

If we want little girls to grow up to be women working in STEM, which is where the jobs of the future will be, then we need them to have women to look up to in those roles. It is not impossible. In 1977 Aer Lingus was the first airline in Europe to employ a female pilot, Gráinne Cronin. Currently, Aer Lingus employs twice as many female pilots when compared with the international airline industry average. Little girls get on their flights and they often hear a female pilot talking over the intercom instead of a man. That is inspirational. They are role models. And now Aer Lingus is looking for more of them. It has just launched the Aer Lingus Future Pilot Programme, a sponsored and mentored training platform for aspiring pilots.

The recruits of 2018 will go through a 14-month training programme before beginning their aviation career as a first officer in 2020. Continuing its support of female pilots, the airline wants to attract more female applicants to the programme. Fancy a career change? Like Grainne Cronin, you too could be flying high as an inspirational role model.