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Embracing gender equity in the modern workplace is an essential part of a healthy organisational culture. Research indicates that embracing gender equity leads to positive business results with businesses demonstrating equitable gender representation performing better than those without.  

There has been some headway made in improving the gender balance of Ireland’s businesses. Whilst EU data shows Ireland as the seventh best country for gender equality among member states – according to Geraldine King, Chief Executive of the Employment & Recruitment Federation (ERF) and ERF Skillnet Promoter, despite women making up close to half the workforce women only hold 42% of managerial roles, and less than a quarter (24%) of positions at C-suite levels. 

recent OECD research report found that the ‘sticky floor’ of gender stereotyping, discrimination and pay inequality, and the ‘glass ceiling’ of motherhood still exist across many European countries. Some of the measures recommended to address these issues include promoting policies that support working mothers through flexible work, early childcare support, and prioritising equal pay and pay transparency laws. 

At Skillnet Ireland and within our more than 70 Skillnet Business Networks we know that gender equity and strong overall Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) is good for everyone and especially good for businesses. From industries spanning aviation, design, biopharma, radio, recruitment, digital technologies, sustainability and more – we encourage businesses and workers in Ireland to embrace equity through a range of talent development solutions. A number of networks have published insightful research reports in the areas of DEI across several sectors including the biopharma chem and agri-food sectors. 

Similar to figures for 2021, in 2022 Skillnet Business Networks achieved near equal gender representation across all programmes, with 47% female participation across a wide range of programmes. Over 600 learners participated in dedicated women leadership upskilling programmes and networking events in 2022, including a number of programmes designed to support women returners to the technology sector. Overall, female participation in diversity and inclusion programmes is strong with 75% females in a range of occupations taking part in 2022, in comparison to 25% males. Female representation on the Skillnet Ireland Board is at 50%, which is significantly higher than the national average of 32%

To learn more about gender equity and the influence of our talent development solutions, we spoke to some of our female Skillnet Business Network Promoters, Managers and participants. 

What is gender equity? 

Gender equity, as defined by the European Institute for Gender Equality, is the “Provision of fairness and justice in the distribution of benefits and responsibilities between women and men.” The concept of equity should not be confused with its close cousin equality.  

While equity and equality are both rooted in the concept of fairness, they are quite different. Equity encompasses an understanding of the varying circumstances of each person and distributes the resources and opportunities required for equal results. Equality means giving each person or group the same opportunities and resources and does not consider circumstantial factors. Both are essential components of a just society. 

Encourage women to take leadership roles 

Ireland has made considerable progress in addressing the gender gap and ranks ninth in the World Economic Forum’s top ten Global Gender Gap Index 2022. Despite this achievement, there is some room for improvement as women are underrepresented at leadership level in Ireland. As part of embracing equity businesses need to actively encourage women to take on leadership and senior roles. When advancing women into leadership roles, Susan Costello, Network Manager, BioPharmaChem Skillnet (BPC) recommends that “Organisations identify where the largest gap in promotions is for women in their pipeline. Following this, they need to ensure women and men are put up for promotions at similar rates, monitor outcomes to make sure they’re fair and impartial, and remove any biased aspects of their evaluation process.” Driven by the need to support more women advancing into leadership roles within the sector, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) BPC Skillnet partnered with CareerVision and Kennedy Insights to create a unique Women in Leadership Programme (WILD). Participation will help develop industry-specific skills and knowledge, broaden access to and encourage ongoing professional development, and provide access to a network of female leaders in the sector. 

In the technology sector in Ireland only 19% of women are employed in technology companies or in ICT roles in other industries and less than 25% of women are working in STEM jobs. itag Skillnet, the business network for companies of all sizes in the technology sector in the West, North-West and Mid-West Region, champions the growth and development of women in the ICT sector and is committed to helping empower women within their member companies to help drive real change.

Dee Timoney, Network Manager of itag Skillnet, says:

Businesses need to recognise that it is challenging to be a female in a male-dominated sector. They need to encourage and actively support females in their roles. By having more females working in the industry they can act as role models for the younger generation of women behind them.” 

Our networks offer a range of women in leadership programmes for specific sectors and regularly host and participate in events that support female leadership, career progression, returning to work, and workforce participation. These include itag Skillnet’s Digital Women’s Leadership Programme, the Digital Athlete, ReBOOT and TechSTART programmes from DIGITAL Skillnet, Chorus – Energy Transition Networking Event In partnership with Women in Green Hydrogen with Green Tech Skillnet, International Finance Services (IFS) Skillnet’s Advancing Women programme, it@cork Skillnet’s Connect to Thrive – Uplift for Women in Tech, Taste4Success Skillnet’s award-winning Rejuvenate female returners programme and many more. 

Recently, Carlow Kilkenny SkillnetWaterford Chamber Skillnet and Cork Chamber Skillnet celebrated the first cohort of companies (22 businesses) to complete their new programme with the Irish Centre for Diversity (ICD) to help address the diversity and inclusion skills gap among senior SME managers.  

The art of flexibility at work 

The pandemic brought about a sea change in working arrangements globally. Research conducted by Ibec in 2021 indicated that the pandemic had the ability to regress the considerable progress made in gender equity.  

Further 2022 research from McKinsey and Company, highlights that female leaders are more likely than their male counterparts to leave their jobs because they want more flexibility, or they want to work for a company that is more committed to employee wellbeing and DEI. Additionally, female leaders actively support employee well-being and foster DEI work that significantly improves retention and employee satisfaction but is not formally rewarded in most organisations.  

Susan Costello believes retaining women in leadership roles is a crucial step for any business that is serious about embracing equity.

“Retain current women in leadership roles by offering benefits to improve women’s work experiences including, flexibility, childcare benefits, and mental health support. Female employees (and employees in general) who are happy with their working arrangements, hybrid, remote or on-site, are happier in their jobs, therefore less likely to consider leaving their companies and in the long term are less burned out.” 

The power of embracing equity 

Closing the gender gap in business is powerful and diversity drives innovation within teams, boosts productivity, and expands opportunity for everyone. Geraldine King believes aligning gender equity with strategic business goals is an easy decision to make. “Every business should consciously and continuously review their business strategy to ensure the promotion, recruitment and selection of female senior leaders/board members is accommodated for. Women in senior roles make huge contributions to the success and growth of businesses, bringing skills, foresight, innovation, and benefits to their organisation.”

To Lorna Smyth, Solutions Engineer Manager, Diligent, and an itag Skillnet Digital Women’s Leadership Programme participant, embracing equity means, “Leading by example and giving all members of my team what they need to be successful. By embracing equity, we can contribute to a more positive and productive work environment and help to build a culture of respect and equality within our organisations. This can also help to attract and retain a diverse range of talented employees and promote a more positive image of our company to the wider community.” 

The recruitment sector in Ireland has an above-average percentage of females in their workforce. However, when it comes to females in senior roles the percentage is much lower. ERF Skillnet is working to promote equality in the workforce through its events and programmes. Regular training workshops about diversity and discrimination in the workplace are led by barrister Eoin O’Connor to support business owners and managers in managing diversity and equality.

ERF Skillnet Network Manager, Janice O’Rourke believes that embracing DEI is a win-win for everyone:

Embracing gender equality enhances the opportunity for companies to attract good talent while supporting the retention of the current staff. The reputation of a company is key to attracting good talent and developing the talent within is vital for productivity and economic growth.” 

Talent solutions to suit any business 

Businesses in Ireland have the power to invest in gender equity. We need to continue to raise the standard for future generations. If you are thinking of ways that you can embrace equity through talent development, visit our Networks page to find the right Skillnet Business Network for your business and team.  

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