Friday 23 February 2018

Why empowering women in the workplace is a win-win for us all

Vodafone's "ReConnect" programme will be rolled out in 26 countries

Anne O'Leary

Wednesday, March 8, is an important day for everyone's calendars. It marks International Women's Day, a worldwide event that celebrates women's achievements in all spheres of life. It began in the early 1900s, when almost 20,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights.

Its original aim was to achieve full gender equality for women all over the world and, sadly, it is as relevant now as it was then.

While many great strides have been made in Ireland in recent decades to address inequality in the workplace and to create a more level playing field for men and women, there is still more work to do. In 2016 it was estimated that men earn on average 20pc more than their female colleagues working in the same position.

Women in Ireland are significantly under-represented in decision-making structures accounting for less than a fifth of members of local authorities. Women are still under-represented in sectors such as technology, finance and engineering. How can positive change for women come about if we are not in a position to influence that change?

I pride myself on being part of a team that supports gender equality in the workforce.

One of the biggest barriers to progression associated with gender inequality in the workplace is the decision to start a family. For women that decision often necessitates a career break.

The global theme of this year's International Women's Day is 'Be Bold For Change' - and it's a message we at Vodafone stand behind 100pc. This year, Ireland is one of 26 countries chosen to take part in Vodafone's ReConnect programme, an initiative designed to encourage talented women, that are on a career break, back into the workforce. As part of this, we will offer management and front-facing positions to women who are keen to rejoin the workforce.

Read more: Have you still got it? Irish tech firms looking for highly skilled women who wish to re-enter industry

Anne O’Leary is the chief executive of Vodafone Ireland Picture: Conor McCabe
Anne O’Leary is the chief executive of Vodafone Ireland Picture: Conor McCabe

We'll do this by offering flexible working conditions and refresher training in order to help talented women re-enter the workforce at a position that reflects their experience, skills and talent.

We want to send out a signal to women and other employers that we are missing out on some of the most talented people Ireland has to offer if we don't find a way to give them the chance they deserve.

I believe gender inequality is a symptom of historic under-representation, a lack of female role models and even parental mindsets that perhaps don't encourage daughters to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

You can see why the theme of this year's International Women's Day, 'Be Bold For Change', was chosen.

I also believe that flexible working is something that more employers need to implement in order to allow all employees, but especially females, to more easily balance family and work commitments. Managing output rather than presenteeism is a model which more businesses should adopt. By simply putting the tools and technologies in place to facilitate this, employers can make a significant positive impact on the lives of employees.

I firmly believe that mentoring and coaching females is a vital part of the process. I would encourage any female executive to regularly seek out networking opportunities and to build contacts and alliances that enhance and help develop their career. To celebrate International Women's Day, we'll host a series of talks for our staff, bringing together inspirational women to share their experiences in overcoming gender stereotypes and succeeding in business.

Stephanie Shirley will be joining us to share her experiences. She set up an IT business which enables companies to employ female professionals on a part-time basis. The business, Xansa, has been a huge success and is now part of the Sopra Steria group which employs nearly 7,000 people across the UK.

Sophie Spence is another key speaker. Sophie is an impressive and inspirational figure from the world of sport. She is one of the highest-achieving female rugby players in Ireland, who not only represented the country at the 2014 World Cup but in 2015 was nominated for World Women's Player of the Year. Only by being bold and breaking stereotypes was Sophie able to achieve her success.

I believe the mantra we should all subscribe to, in conjunction with this year's International Women's Day, is that empowering women is not just good for women, but for everyone. Much still needs to be done to encourage females into traditionally male-dominated career sectors and it is clear there is still a gap in gender pay in the professions.

However, by acknowledging that we all have a role to play in the solution, we can work towards positive change.

Sunday Indo Business

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