10 March 2017
International Women’s Day 2017 dawned in Ireland in the shadow of the ongoing harrowing discoveries from the former mother and baby home in Tuam and elsewhere, stark reminders of how Irish society treated women in the not so distant past.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was “be bold for change” and called on all people and organisations to take bold concrete steps towards gender parity in all aspects of life.
The day itself originated in the late 19th and early 20th century struggles of women workers in the sweat shops of America’s clothing industry. It commemorates the courage of their trade union movement and encourages everybody today to keep up the battle for full equality between the sexes.
In the business world, despite huge strides in recent decades it has been estimated by the World Economic Forum that the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go.
Women are most likely to achieve in business when they have access to good quality education and development and when they are familiar with inspiring role models. The process starts earlier than applying for a job or setting up a business. Perceptions of roles and careers must change and women have to see that they can succeed in a particular field, or at least won’t fail or be held back because they are women. International Women’s Day aims to be the vehicle to drive towards better education and training for women and showcase successful women and how they might be emulated.
Economic benefit of gender balance
Recent research shows that companies with a good gender balance are more likely to have financial returns higher than the average for their industry.
A recent McKinsey report suggests that global GDP could be increased by €10.9trn by 2025 simply by improving gender balance in the boardroom and on management teams.
Equalising the gender balance in business boosts economies and reduces the costs associated with the loss of female talent in the business world.
Working to achieve fairness and equality is not just the right thing to do but it is economically beneficial as well – a point dramatically illustrated by State Street, a huge asset manager, when they commissioned the Fearless Girl statue and placed it facing the Raging Bull in front of the New York Stock Exchange for International Women’s Day. It is a nudge for companies to put more women on their boards which has been proven to lead to better financial performances.
More than two thirds of people living in poverty across the world are female, and according to VSO Ireland, an international development organisation, women only earn 10% of world income despite doing 66% of the world’s work, and own only 1% of the world’s property.
Discrimination is most evident in Africa, Asia and the Pacific region but it is also alive and well in Western countries where it takes the less obvious form of glass ceilings and passive resistance to equality.
Figures from Eurostat show Ireland as doing fairly well, both in numbers of women in managerial positions, and in the gender pay gap compared to other EU states. Their 2014 figures published recently, show that women hold 43% of managerial positions in Ireland compared to a high of just over 50% in Latvia, (the only country where women managers are in the majority), and lows of only around 22% in Germany, Italy and Cyprus.
Our gender pay gap of 16% is better than the EU average of 23% and much better than the 34% of Italy and Hungary. Some of this pay gap is likely to be explained by the fact that there are more women than men in lower paid sectors and also the fact that more men go for higher paid jobs shown by the higher number of men in managerial positions. Also, taking maternity leave may account for women earning less overall.
However, these somewhat encouraging statistics do not paint the full picture. Last month PwC published figures which showed that the gender pay gap actually widened in Ireland in recent years and that Ireland has been 25th out of 33 countries in the latest Women in Work Index since 2000.
Nearly one third of female directors surveyed in 2015 believed the glass ceiling still exists in Irish business.
More encouraging perhaps are the views of Julie Sinnamon CEO of Enterprise Ireland, who points out the increase in women entrepreneurs in recent times. In 2011 Enterprise Ireland supported 7 female entrepreneurs out of a total of 100, and by last year this had risen to 63 out of 230.
Globally only 8% of tech entrepreneurs are female, in Ireland the figure is 17%.
Enterprise Ireland and Julie Sinnamon herself are committed to encouraging more women into business, by creating support networks where women can share experiences and discuss the issues specific to them in addition to mixed support networks, and by making women more aware of the many successful female entrepreneurs there are in Ireland today.
Sinead McSweeney, Managing Director of Twitter Ireland has noticed the increase of women in leadership and managerial roles saying she is rarely the only woman in the room any more.
There is a target of 40% set for women on State boards and to this end a ‘talent bank’ of possible candidates was formed in 2014. Overall, female representation on State boards now stands at 38.4% and while some have achieved the target, these have now been given a new target of 45%.
So a lot remains to be done to enable women to participate to their full potential in the business world but we have come a long way since the marriage bar was lifted in 1973.