Claire Flannery

Gender Diversity, Inclusion and Gender Equality are very topical at present, with an ever-increasing body of research demonstrating the significant productivity and ‘bottom-line’ benefits of having a healthy gender balance at all grades, levels and disciplines in an organisation. For example, the recent research from McKinsey and Company, Delivering Through Diversity provides very compelling evidence of the strong correlation between diversity and company financial performance.

(The benefits of gender equality and inclusion extend far beyond business profitability, and include wider economic and societal gains e.g. recent OECD figures estimate the world economic gain of gender parity at $1.2 trillion) Our national interest is clearly evidenced in the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 and with recent discussions on the Gender Pay Gap.

At the Gender Pay Gap Symposium earlier this year, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan talked about gender equality and the gender pay gap as being a global concern; with Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphries highlighting that the gender pay gap is an issue that affects all of our society.

 While diversity is “being invited to the party…inclusion is being asked to dance” (Verna Myers)

While the vast majority of organisations start out well, with 50/50 gender representation at entry-level, they suffer from ‘leaky pipelines’, with diminishing levels of female representation as you look up the ranks, and with an average of 16% female board membership levels in Ireland.

At the recent Symposium, Dr.Orlagh Quinn, Secretary General from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation spoke of the Civil Service and how the issue is less about equal pay and more about getting women to senior positions, and she highlighted the need to support women on maternity leave and when they return to work. Dr. Kara McGann, Senior Policy Executive at Ibec talked of a future where it is acknowledged that both men and women have caring responsibilities and it is not seen as a barrier to career progression.

This spotlight on diversity and inclusion has continued throughout the year, and last month saw an Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Minister for Equality David Stanton launch the Better Balance for Better Business initiative, a business-led review group to support gender balance.

 Irish Employment Context

In Ireland, we know that:

  • There is an increasing percentage of women in the workforce (at 68%) but we still lag behind many of our European counterparts (ESRI).
  • There is a 20% reduction in workforce participation rates where women have children under 3 years of age (CSO).
  • The Gender Pay Gap trebles when people hit their 30’s and 40’s (CSO).
  • By aged 30-44, 70% of women at work in Ireland have at least 1 child, with the average number of children born to women in Ireland being 2.33 (CSO).

There is a significant shift around the time women are most likely to start a family and have young children, often corresponding with a mid-career phase. This is where we see a drop in female workforce participation rates and a jump in the gender pay gap. This shift has an impact on leave, hours, pay and subsequent career advancement; and continues to increase right up to retirement age.

We also know that:

  • We are operating in a near-full employment market, and the pressure is on to attract, engage and retain a diverse workforce in a reducing talent pool.
  • Millennials make up the largest proportion of our workforce, and they expect more collaborative, inclusive and flexible employers and work status. Almost every new mother in Ireland today is a millennial Mum (and presumably new dads too).

 Legislative Context

Addressing issues of gender equality and the gender pay gap at a national level requires providing protected family status and legislation that supports and encourages organisational inclusion. In addition to the body of legislation in existence, in the coming months we can expect to see initiatives such as increased parental leave, increase in paid paternity leave and/or shared parental leave and Gender Pay Gap reporting. The onus will be on the employer to evidence the steps they are taking to avoid discrimination and address inequalities.

 How can we equip our leaders to prepare for this changing legislative and cultural landscape?

  • Provide education, guidance and support on all of the new and existing legislation
  • Implement workplace strategies that are inclusive for expectant and new parents, and demonstrate a commitment to a family-friendly work culture
  • Encourage and empower them to look for creative and pragmatic ways to address interim resource gaps

 Want to learn more?

Over the coming months, PAI will be running a series of workshops to equip HR professionals, business leaders and line managers with the knowledge and skills to confidently implement inclusive work practices. We will also be holding employee workshops to support women to plan for a successful transition in and out of work, relating to maternity and family leave.

Claire Flannery is the Founder and Director of 'Strength Within' coaching and consultancy, where she focuses on helping people create the headspace and mental clarity to discover, cultivate and maximise their strength within. Claire is a qualified Business Psychologist and Executive, Business & Personal Coach with over a decade of experience working in HR leadership in Financial and Professional Services. She has worked with business leaders and individuals through significant organisational and personal change, including periods of organisational growth, restructure and downsizing. She is also a mum to two small boys and has personal experience of successfully managing her career while preparing to transition out of, and back into, the workforce.