Much has been made about the lack of women in the tech industry and that women are in the minority when it comes to STEM courses. Salesforce – a multinational Customer Relationship Management (CRM) company – in partnership with Bridge21 aims to put more women in tech roles and STEM education through its CodePlus programme. As part of the Trinity Access 21 programme Codeplus is designed to help those who would not have the chance to access such education because of economic, educational or other disadvantages.

In a meeting at Salesforce’s Irish Headquarters in Leopardstown this morning Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton was in attendance to promote the longstanding relationship between Salesforce and the Irish government as well as acknowledge the numerous advantages Bridge21 is giving to young women. The potential of Bridge21 is massive and with a donation of $100,000 by Salesforce it is set to continue providing opportunities to its participants through its workshops and speaking engagements.

Bridge21 puts an emphasis on putting young women and girls in direct contact with women already working in STEM and technology fields. By giving them people already in these roles Bridge21 gives its participants people to look up to.”We’re trying to empower students to do things,” said Professor Brendan Tangey, the Academic Director of Bridge21.

There is a two strand approach to this role model initiative. The first is a week long, intensive – around 20 hours – coding workshop for girls run by the funding company. The second is driven by speaking engagements given by women for women in all-girls secondary schools. Bridge21’s goal of making STEM accessible and demystifying the likes of computer science and computer engineering for girls is echoed by Salesforce.

Salesforce is one of several leading Ireland-based tech companies – alongside the likes of Google and Facebook – and strives to create an equal working environment with a set of core values that it then applies to its philanthropic activities. It’s 1-1-1 model is a good example of this wherein the company provides one percent of its equity, one percent of its technology and one percent of its employee’s voluntary time throughout Salesforce’s global bases. “We have four values here: growth, innovation, trust and equality,” said Dr David Dempsey who is the Country Leader for Salesforce in Ireland. “Diversity is something we’re hugely passionate about here because if you look at this industry why would it not be accessible to all of society?” Salesforce’s goals reflect those of the Irish government’s investment plans for education.

Over the next decade Ireland has set in place a ten year plan as part of the Ireland 2040 initiative to invest hugely in the country’s growth. With €12 billion set to be invested in education by 2040 is second on the list for investment. In his introductory remarks Dr Dempsey said “As a business we benefit from the quality of education in Ireland. It has helped equip many of the team, myself included, with the essential skills for success.”

The ambitious scheme for Ireland 2040 is set to improve on the standard of education we already have and benefit areas that have not seen as much investment over the last number of years including STEM particularly in regard to disadvantaged areas. Speaking on these ambitions Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton said: “There are many aspects to delivering on this ambition including providing the highest quality STEM education experience, breaking down cycles of disadvantage to ensure everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their full potential and building better bridges between industry and education.”

Though Bridge21 and Salesforce are currently only running these programmes in Dublin they see it as becoming a nationwide programme soon as the Department of Education has already begun rolling out Computer Science as a Leaving Certificate subject in 40 schools. Speaking on regional educational investment Jim Green Salesforce’s Senior Vice-President of Global Government Affairs and Public Policy said that “Talent shouldn’t be regional” and followed it on by saying “To deliver on our goals we have to have access to that talent.” Minister Bruton echoed these statements made by Mr Green when he said: “It’s important to build a bridge between the wider world and education.”

Two participants of the Bridge21 programme were in attendance to talk about their experience in the CodePlus workshops run by the programme. Klaudia and Aoife – “the real stars of the show” according to Mr Green – spent a week learning basic coding as well as programming languages such as Python. Klaudia said that “CodePlus was the perfect opportunity to try coding and make connections for the future.”

There is a genuine curiosity and interest around STEM as Klaudia explained. “I wanted to see what computer science is all about.” Aoife found that as well as coding the CodePlus workshop gave her other life skills. “I wouldn’t have been able to do public speaking if I hadn’t participated in Bridge 21,” she said after speaking publicly and ably on the subject at the meeting. Programmes like these not only teach participants how to code and use technology in new and exciting ways but also how to develop other skills along the way. “Bridge21 brings out the most of you as a person,” stated Aoife.

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