Wednesday 21 February 2018

Leading business women split on need for gender quotas

Helen Tynan, Google Ireland, and Una Fox, The Walt Disney Company, at the 2016 WXN Top 25 Awards. Photo: Damien Eagers
Helen Tynan, Google Ireland, and Una Fox, The Walt Disney Company, at the 2016 WXN Top 25 Awards. Photo: Damien Eagers

Sean Duffy

Ireland's leading business women are split over the question of whether to introduce gender quotas in the workplace to help break down barriers to success.

Many of the country's leading business names packed the fifth annual Women's Executive Network's (WXN) Leadership Summit in Dublin yesterday, followed by a gala awards dinner.

While there was universal support at the event for the need to encourage and promote more women to senior roles, a straw poll of attendees showed an even split between those in favour and those against gender quotas.

At the event 25 of the most powerful women in Ireland - in the private and public sectors - were honoured.

Winners included Rose Hynes of the Shannon Group and Origin Enterprises; Breege O'Donoghue of Primark; Dell's Niamh Townsend; PayPal's Louise Phelan; Disney's Una Fox; Ann Nolan of the Department of Finance; RSA chief Liz O'Donnell; and Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon.

Keynote speaker Rose Hynes backed the idea of a formal quota to shake up the status quo.

"There is significant inequality right across Irish business, and the only way to address it in any meaningful way is to introduce a series of quotas. We need to unblock the blockages that are currently stopping women progressing," Ms Hynes said.

Google's Irish director of people operations, Helen Tynan, said ensuring women have a say in the hiring process is an essential means of bridging the gender gap.

"It's pity we have to be talking about gender quotas. I have been in business for 20 years and unfortunately the world is not changing as fast as we would like.

"I do believe in quotas, but not at the appointment stage. I believe in quotas only at the panel stage for making appointments," said Ms Tynan.

However, Bronwyn Brophy, vice president, early technologies EMEA at Medtronics, said: "I don't believe in playing the female card. I think we need to think of ourselves as equal.

"It is imperative to have everyone within the organisation cognisant of the gender situation within the company.

"We have tried forced quotas in the past, and what tends to happen is that you have females who are not the best candidate for the job, or they are not suited to the job, and they tend not to stay in the role."

Marguerite Sayers, managing director at ESB Networks, said there was a risk women might find themselves not being given a full level of the respect they deserve if they were appointed on the basis of a quota.

"In the long term I think it can be quite damaging because people might think that women are only in a particular role because of a quota and that's the only reason that they're there," Ms Sayers said.

"Given where we were years ago there was probably no choice other than to have quotas because that meant at least there was a critical mass.

"But I think that has become less of an issue. "I think we definitely have to keep an eye on the overall figures but I wouldn't be in favour of quotas," she said.

Among those honoured at the event in the Intercontinental Hotel were the winners of the Trailblazers Awards: Mary Fitzgerald, foreign correspondent with Independent Newspapers; Susan McKenna-Lawlor, director, Space Technology Ireland; and Margot Slattery, president of Sodexo Ireland and LGBT advocate,

WXN's global chief executive Sherri Stevens said that "this year's winners are true leaders in their field.

"It is essential that we keep promoting and celebrating their success because the sad truth remains that progress is still slow.

"In Ireland, women only comprise 10pc of board seats on ISEQ companies and the gender pay gap remains at 14.4pc," she said.

Entrepreneurs honoured at the event were: Anne Marie Caulfield, of Caulfield McCarthy Group; Caroline Keeling, ceo, Keelings; and Sarah Kent, ceo of Kentech International Limited,

The Davy Business Leaders awards went to Una Fox, vice president, The Walt Disney Company; Shannon Group's Rose Hynes; Breege O'Donoghue of Primark; and Louise Phelan of PayPal.

In the Arts and Culture, the work of author Anne Enright, designer Louise Kennedy and artist Camille Souter was celebrated.

The Public Sector awards were given to Liz O'Donnell, chair of the Road Safety Authority; Irish ambassador to the UN Patricia O'Brien; Ann Nolan, of the Department of Finance; and Helen Dixon, the Data Protection Commissioner.

Irish Independent

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