Deirdre Mortell: We need to talk about gender equality every day, not just today

Women are not represented at many of the top tables of Irish business — so we need to act and we need to do so now

‘Research found that all-male teams make better business decisions 58 per cent of the time, while gender diverse teams do so 73 per cent of the time’

I don’t want to talk about women in business on International Women’s Day. I want to talk about women in business in Ireland every day.

The old chestnut of IWD is here again and every editor has been quaking at the sound of the cliché.

But this time we mean business. And I want HR managers to read this and take note of the talent under their nose. Women with all their life experience and skills.

Women account for 51 per cent of the population, but are not represented at many of the top tables of Irish business. So we need to act and we need to do so now.

All business benefits from a range of diverse talents and experiences. When you are missing out on a talent pool of humanity, then you are missing a trick.

Research by Cloverpop, the business software platform, found teams outperform individual decision makers 66 per cent of the time, and decision making improves as team diversity increases. Compared to individual decision makers, all-male teams make better business decisions 58 per cent of the time, while gender diverse teams do so 73 per cent of the time. Teams that also include a wide range of ages and different geographic locations make better business decisions 87 per cent of the time.

Happily change in Ireland is, as they say, a coming.

Women of experience, diversity and of varied backgrounds are increasingly entering the employment market and proving a rich hunting ground for prospective employers. And they need supports.

Education, training, mentoring, all lead to empowerment and employment.

Rethink Ireland, the Social Innovation Fund of Ireland, and Bank of America run the Mná na hÉireann fund worth €1.8 million to support NGOs to empower women in employment in Ireland.

This fund aims to help one thousand women find and secure sustained employment across Ireland, by investing in these NGOs who provide training, upskilling and education directly to women experiencing disadvantage.

Take for example, our awardee The Irish Refugee Council, which works with women currently in Direct Provision who have previous successful careers abroad and need guidance to pivot toward the Irish employment market.

Or Here Come The Girls, which supports women to take part in employability and courses to suit mothers of school-going children and homemakers. This programme is currently retraining a number of women for careers in the health sector.

And Dress For Success is not just a wardrobe. Founded to promote the economic independence of women, by supporting individuals to enter the workforce with confidence, it pairs clients with expert mentors who equip them with the skills to secure employment.

During the Covid 19 pandemic, women’s unemployment rate rose by 53.8 per cent 
while it rose by 23 per cent for men, as women are overrepresented in the hardest hit sectors; hospitality, childcare and retail.

Research by Women For Election, an organisation that trains women to run for political positions, shows that only 20 per cent of TDs and 25 per cent of elected councillors in Ireland are women. Women are absent from 40 per cent of critical government decision making tables, yet it is currently being proven in Irish arts and sport that a diversity of participants enriches all.

The “Why Not Her” movement this past year has driven the recognition and radioplay of Irish female musical artists, resulting in the revelation of talent such as Denise Chaila and Gemma Dunleavy.

The 20x20 campaign, aimed at shifting the perception of girls and women in sport, has driven an acceptance that women’s sports are actually mainstream, leading to record numbers now viewing the Irish women’s football team. As they say, If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

And so it should be in business.

We need to address the issue of gender equality every day. If as the UN says no country on earth can claim to have achieved gender equality, why can’t Ireland be a leader and go for it in the next decade? This small country was the first in the world to vote for marriage equality. We can lead again.

What better way to start a gender equality movement than by looking to enrich the workforce with diverse talented women.

Commenting on our Mna na hEireann fund and on International Women’s Day, Fernando Vicario, chief execcutive of Bank of America Europe and country manager of Bank of America Ireland, said: “International Women’s Day works to highlight and celebrate the pivotal role women play in society, it also demonstrates the need for progress on women’s representation in the workforce and the need to create a more inclusive world. We know that if women had an equal place in terms of earning power, they could boost global GDP by more than 30 per cent. I am proud of the ongoing partnership and support Bank Of America has provided to Rethink Ireland and I would encourage CEOs and HR experts to get in touch with them so they can tap into this incredible female talent pool we have developed through the Mna na hEireann fund.”

Rethink Ireland runs the €1.8 million fund in partnership with Bank of America and the Department of Rural and Community Development via the Dormant Accounts Fund.

More information on the fund be found here

Deirdre Mortell is chief executive of Rethink Ireland, the Social Innovation Fund of Ireland.