I was delighted to get a ticket to this year’s Inspirefest 2016 which took place in Dublin. This international festival of technology, science, design and the arts places diversity and inclusion at its heart. The two days are filled with inspirational speakers. In a vibrant, friendly atmosphere people came together to share ideas, meet friends old and new and learn from leaders in their field from across the world. Here are 10 things I learned at Inspirefest 2016.

#1. Diversity can make us stronger

“The Motto of the EU is ‘United in Diversity’, but it is much more than a motto.  When you strip away the EU down to its core, this is what it is all about. All of us together, but different, working towards a better future.”  An Taoiseach Enda Kenny , T.D. 

Against the background of the recent Brexit vote in the UK, increased resistance to migration and immigration across the world, it is so important to remember that diversity can make us stronger. The importance of diversity and inclusion a strong theme running through all the Inspirefest talks and discussions.


#2. Foster a collaborative environment

“There is a richness and depth of conversation when you have people from radically different backgrounds with diverse skills coming together”  Ann O’Dea, Founder Inspirefest

When you bring people from different backgrounds, experiences and skill sets together you can foster a collaborative environment. This can result in innovation, in the new thinking and ideas we need for the future.


#3. Collaboration between Art and Science is the future

“The Future in Creative Technology” Noel Murphy, Leader, Intel IoT/Wearable Design

We need to break down the artificial construction in our minds that there is a separation between artists and scientists. Engineers and designers are also creative people but by collaborating with artists can push the boundaries beyond where we can imagine.

#4. STEAM not STEM

“Leonardo Da Vinci was a STEAMER”  Zoe Philpott, Tech Entrepreneur & Artistic Storyteller

This comment drew a huge laugh from the audience. But think about it, Da Vinci was an artist, mathematician, inventor and writer. For him there was no separation between the STEM disciplines and the Arts, why should there be one now?  Inspirefest invites us to take inspiration from this, and place the arts at the centre of technological development, and collaborate creatively.

#5. Mothers need to encourage daughters into STEM

“The number one influence on girls entering college is their mother, so we need to get mothers to encourage their daughters into STEM” Brenda Romero, Game Designer

Until mothers see science and technology as attractive options for their daughters we will always struggle to improve gender balance and diversity in these fields. Even the way women are portrayed in video games feeds in to their prejudice against working in tech. The unrealistically sexualised female characters portrayed in most games are not the role models any mother would choose for her daughter. This supports the myth that tech is not really for girls.


#6. Surround yourself with smart people

“Make your bet on smart people, the industry may always change, but smart people will figure it out” Raju Narisetti, Senior VP, Strategy, News Corp

Change and innovation are happening at an ever more rapid pace. Every sector is experiencing disruption and the skills you had may not always fit those changes. But smart people will always come up with new ideas and find solutions, its the people not just their skill set that is of value.

#7. We need to support students from non traditional college backgrounds

“In the US today, parents’ level of education and Zipcode are the two greatest indicators of an 18 month old’s chance of graduating college” Alex Bernadotte, Founder Beyond 12

So much time and effort is invested in preparing a child to apply for and get a place in college, as if that is the ultimate goal. In fact it is the first step, and many children struggle academically, socially, financially and emotionally in college. This is especially true if attending college is not part of their family history. We need to recognise the difference between college eligible and college ready. We need to support students, especially those from non traditional college backgrounds, if we are ever going to achieve true diversity in education.


#8. Social media is powerful for women

“Social Media is a powerful tool to amplify women’s voices, especially if they are different” Sinead Burke, Equality Advocate, Researcher, Writer

Social media can be a powerful distribution channel for ideas and messaging.  Every women has a voice, and often it can be unheard.  However by using social media, sharing a message from one woman’s network to another we can amplify that message, and make that voice heard.

#9. Parents need to stop reinforcement of stereotypes

“Our study showed that the most important factor in career choice was whether you think you will fit in, followed by what will my parents think” Prof. Mark Ferguson, Director-General, Science Foundation Ireland

This way of thinking is reinforcing stereotypes, children continue to choose to study what they and their family are familiar with, rather than look at new opportunities. Through the Smart Futures programme SFI support school visits by STEM industry members, to engage with children, and promote the idea of a future in STEM.

#10. Build your network

“It’s not who you know or what you know, it’s who knows what you know” Kelly Hoey, Investor, Laconia Capital

Many of us are so focused on building our expertise and experience we neglect building a network of people, be it to either support and mentor us or promote us to their network.  Unless people are aware of what you have to offer, they can’t buy it, so building and maintaining your network is as valuable as building and maintaining your skill set.

I have listed 10 things I learned, I could have listed 20 more. Inspirefest is truly inspirational, book your ticket for next year the minute they go on sale, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

I attended Inspirefest with thanks to Bank of Ireland, all views in this article are my own.