Gender Equality

“In order to change any system, you have to change the culture,”

Gender Equality

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you might recall a recent piece about men in America being far more likely than women to be promoted during the early stages of the career.

That blog post cited figures from a study by and consultancy firm McKinsey, and looked at the continued underrepresentation of women in corporate Ireland too.

Continuing with this theme, we popped in to a recent Royal Irish Academy event on ‘fixing the leaky pipeline’ for women in science, engineering and technology to hear some insights from industry leaders on how to solve this problem. While many of those we spoke to work in science, engineering and technology, the insights they offered on how to improve gender equality in the workplace apply to other industries and sectors too.

Engineer and president of the Royal Irish Academy, Peter Kennedy explained that the event was designed to gain “insights into why a small number of women take up engineering and computer science careers” and why progression rates for women in the sector are “not as good as their male counterparts”.

For Marie Donnelly, former director for new and renewable sources of energy efficiency and innovation at the directorate general for energy at the European Commission, change requires a cultural shift. And that shift begins at home.

“In order to change any system, you have to change the culture,” she said. “Changing the culture in terms of educational choices of girls starts at home. Parents have a responsibility to their daughters to give them a high level of expectation for themselves.”

Companies too need to change their approach.

According to Ann-Marie Holmes, factory manager of Intel’s manufacturing facility in Kildare, and also a vice-president at the tech giant, Intel has increased female representation at all levels of the organisation five-fold over the past five years.

“That’s a huge accomplishment, but it is not finished, we’ve a long way to go,” she said. “The more diverse team you have, the better results you will achieve and the better bottom line for the company.

”Practical steps are key to bridging the gender gap. “Always ensure there’s at least one female candidate on the interview panel,” Holmes said.

Getting women into an organisation is one thing, but retaining them and ensuring they progress is another. Intel, for example, offers coaching and networking circles for female employees.

According to Vodafone Ireland’s chief executive, Anne O’Leary, chief executives must build a pipeline of talent and create the right work environment to foster equality.

Already 63 per cent of Vodafone’s senior leadership team is female, but O’Leary said the company had to continue working to ensure its policies and culture was supportive. She said the company’s way of working must “ensure we keep women in the workplace and that they don’t leave because of a lack of flexibility”.

The need to drive parity in the corporate world is on the government’s radar. In the programme for government, a number of measures were promised to boost female labour market participation and also to help women to have true equality at work. The latest National Women’s Strategy, which spans 2017 to 2020, follows up on those promises.

In that policy document’s foreword, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald talks about visibility as key to equality, citing the mantra ‘if you can see it, you can be it’.

“We need to see more women participating in decision-making across Irish society so that decision-making can be more representative and reflective of both women’s and men’s priorities,” Fitzgerald wrote. “If women are to change their circumstances fundamentally, they need to have greater access to the levers of power across Irish society.”

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long.