I Wish works to highlight careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to female students, showcasing the abundance of job opportunities available in the sector.

From Ovens, Co Cork, Sharon Lombard has recently transitioned to board member at I Wish, while still working full time at the Clonakilty-based, Global Shares (an employee-owned company, which strives to get equity compensation management right for employees). On top of that, Sharon comes home from work each evening and tends to the family farm.

Sharon Lombard at home on her Co Cork calf to beef enterprise.

But help is aplenty in Ovens, with children Finbarr, James and Lucy all contributing to the daily work. Feeding the 130 calves being reared for beef, while also looking after the suckler and pure bred Angus herd, the children’s day begins long before school.

“The alarm goes off at 5.20am every morning and we are all up. Myself and the kids feed the calves and Barry (Sharon’s husband) goes to work (in construction). The kids do the evening feed with their cousins, from across the road. We have a lovely family way of life.”

Sharon continues: “We gave up suckler farming some years back. Between finances and sick calves, things just weren’t going that well for us. But a very good neighbour could see the passion our children had for the farm and wanted us to keep driving it on. So he gave us 10 Friesian bulls, for free. We sold them in Macroom Mart the following fall, for €2/kg and decided to build up our herd again.”

Female treatment

With the help and encouragement of friends, Sharon and Barry decided that it was time they pursued the family dream – to start milking cows. However, she could never have predicted the unwarranted response her loan application would receive from representatives of a professional financial institution.

“As the main earner of the house, I applied for a loan last year. But when I went to the bank, I was told by two men that, ‘It would be very unusual for a woman to be looking for a loan for a milking enterprise’ and the other added, ‘I find it hard to believe that you are up every morning at that time feeding calves’.

“It wasn’t being turned down that bothered me – it was the way they treated me. I was reared on a farm and it is what I care about. Lucy, my daughter is only 10, but is up every single morning with her brothers feeding the calves. She too is determined to be a farmer or a vet.”

Although she did not get the bank loan, Sharon is focusing on converting to dairy and she is also working off farm at Global Shares. The ultimate dream of hers is getting into dairy some day in the near future.

It was after this, that Sharon’s devotion to I Wish introduced itself.

“I am very passionate about gender equality in farming and across all industries. At I wish, we are trying to highlight that STEM is improving our lives. In every avenue of work, STEM comes in.”

With other female farm enthusiasts on her mind, Sharon encourages young women to educate themselves in STEM and then on return to the farmyard, they can implement those skills and newly found knowledge.

“Automatic calf feeders eliminate a lot of hardship involved in rearing calves. That is just one example of how much technology drives farming now.

“I always tell my own children to go educate themselves and then they can bring back the science, technology and know-how to the farm.”

‘Be confident in yourself’

As part of the 2021 campaign, I Wish has been running a series of personal and inspirational letters – An open letter to my 17-year-old self – from women working at a senior level in STEM industries.

In her own letter, Sharon writes: “Don’t fear the ‘impossible’. Make what you think is impossible possible. There is always a way, I promise. You have a fantastic work ethic and that will always be admired but take time out to be with your friends, they will soon have lives of their own, just as you will.

“Be confident in yourself and your ability. You are destined for greatness and anyone who doesn’t see that has got-to-go.”

Echoing the sentiment of I Wish Sharon believes that if the girls of today don’t participate, or are not given the opportunity to participate in the economies of tomorrow, the STEM gender gap will widen.

“To think that in 2021 a bank can say those things to me; we have a long way to go in Ireland in terms of equality. I am very passionate about pushing myself, pushing my daughter and pushing other young women to achieve our goals.”