Hear from the expert panel host, Dr Kara McGann

Senior Labour Market Policy Executive, Ibec

I'm happy to say that growing numbers of companies in Ireland have been taking this — and other D&I issues — very seriously in recent years. That's not just because it's 'the right thing to do'. It's also because they've seen the business case for it.

  • Maureen O’Brien
  • James Magill
  • Julie McGrath
  • Sarah Claxton
Colonel, Defense Forces

What can be done to attract more women into your industry?

We must continue to highlight the wide variety of opportunities that are available within the Defence Forces. The Irish Defence Forces recruitment and promotion are based solely on merit. The Defence Forces is currently operating in 14 countries and 1 sea, we offer unique opportunities to young men and women that they could not get in any other organisation within the state. I am an infantry officer and throughout my 35 years of service with the Defence Forces, I have worked in a variety of appointments in operations, training and strategic planning. I have commanded an Infantry Battalion (approx. 500 soldiers) and I am currently the Director of Communication and Information Systems. I have worked in a variety of overseas roles in Lebanon, Western Sahara, East Timor, Bosnia and Chad. Other jobs available within the Defence Forces include an infantry soldier, a bomb disposal operative, a navy diver, a pilot, communications and information systems technicians, doctors, medics, military police, naval gunners, cooks, drivers, aircraft technicians, engineers, to mention but a few. We must also ensure that potential recruits, both male and female, are aware of the Equality and Family Friendly Policies available to them, including specific family friendly overseas appointments. In addition, the equality policy alone with the Defence Forces’ regulations are reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance with best practice and to maintain a working environment that treats all members of the Defence Forces in a manner consistent with equal opportunities irrespective of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

 

Why is it beneficial for organisations to be more inclusive? (talk about your industry)

Employing a gender perspective is now an operational imperative for military commanders. Security assessments, plans and analysis must include thorough considerations of women’s contributions to community resilience, sustainable peace, and local security. Organisations that are more inclusive will become more diverse in the long term, providing different perspectives. Diversity leads to the Defence Forces being more resilient which results in creative decision making which is essential in today’s complex security environment. Inclusive leadership enhances trust, improves cohesion and maximizes team performance. Diverse teams can improve engagements with populations in complex security environments.

 

If an organisation wants to build or develop an inclusive ethos, where/how should it begin?

I feel an inclusive ethos must begin with a commitment at senior management level. Senior management must ensure effective policy is in place which in turn leads to a culture of inclusivity which then permeates through the organisation. This is achieved through the implementation of White Paper Initiatives that will ensure the Defence Forces continues to build an inclusive ethos. Every member of the Defence Forces is part of a team and everybody plays their part in achieving the objective or mission. All personnel within the organisation must feel valued and that their opinions can be expressed through official channels, are listened to and feedback is provided. Everyone needs to feel included, part of the team. It is very important that an organisation supports minority groups through support networks such as our LGBTA Network Defend With Pride.

 

How can employers ensure they implement a diversity and inclusion strategy that offers real change?

Our diversity and inclusion strategy is fully supported by senior management, and that is vital if it is to succeed. Our strategy includes clear actions, indictors, stakeholders and deadlines. It also includes a monitoring and assessment mechanism to ensure it is effective. Our Diversity and Inclusion and Strategy Statement also includes actions in relation to Leadership Commitment, Ethos and Values, Training, Communication and HR polices which work towards the organisation being reflective of a changing society. It must be understood that these changes cannot be achieved overnight and realistic and achievable time frames must be laid out. Any positive action and gains achieved in the short term must also be highlighted and adequately communicated both internally and externally.

 

How easy is it to abolish stereotypes in your industry? (online bonus question)

From my experience the Defence Forces is an inclusive working environment, where recruitment and promotion are based solely on merit. There is a clear policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the Defence Forces. The full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities are encouraged at all levels of the organisation. There is no restrictions as regards the assignment of men and women to the full range of operational and administrative duties, this is extremely important as it ensures a working environment that is fair. Within the Defence Forces we know that both men and women are provided with the same opportunities in terms of access to resources, respect and status. We have engaged in a Gender Mainstreaming process, one element of which is the provision of a Gender and Equality Advisor at Headquarters level and Gender Advisors at regional levels.  We ensure all personnel receive Gender Awareness briefs on induction and during career courses and before deploying overseas. The commemorative events of 2016, offered us an opportunity to increase the public’s understanding of the role the Defence Forces play in the State’s security while also reinforcing our identity and heritage. It was a wonderful opportunity for the members of the public to see both men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann participate in all of the events throughout the state regardless of gender, sexuality or ethnicity.

HR Director, Vodafone Ireland

What can be done to attract more women into your industry?

Our approach is to reach out and attract future talent while at the same time creating a culture within our organisation where diversity is celebrated and employees feel valued regardless of their gender. In terms of attraction, this begins with reaching out to younger generations in our graduate campaign, and as members of CWIT we actively encourage girls and young women to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). We also offer a reconnect programme for women who have taken career breaks and want to come back to work. At the same time we aim to retain our existing talent through attractive initiatives like flexible working, career development, proactive maternity leave programme, well-being and much more. In December 2015, Vodafone Ireland launched our HeForShe campaign, which I’m the current sponsor of.  The campaign commits to taking action against gender discrimination and violence in order to build a more just and equal world.

 

Why is it beneficial for organisations to be more inclusive? (talk about your industry)

At Vodafone, we seek to be a company whose global workforce reflects the customers we serve and the broader societies we operate within. We believe our strong commitment to diversity is a source of business strength, enabling us to better understand the needs of the men, women, families and businesses that rely on our networks and services.  Diverse teams are proven to perform better and employees who work within an inclusive environment are more productive and give more discretionary effort. If we are to be successful in this changing world, we need people who think differently, look different and act different; and we need to empower them to bring their whole selves to work.

 

If an organisation wants to build or develop an inclusive ethos, where/how should it begin?

At Vodafone Ireland, we started the journey by not focusing on one big thing, but by doing 1,000 small things, chipping away day in day out. However, if I were to summarise our journey towards creating a diverse and inclusive workplace I would say: Culture, Trust, Purpose and Empowerment. Our goal is that everyone who works with us here in Vodafone feels they can ‘bring their whole self to work’ regardless of background, values, gender or any other characteristic that make them different.  This means embedding equality into all your people processes – actively managing fair and equal pay, ensuring a balanced pipeline of men and women in all resourcing short-lists, ensuring diversity of interviewers to manage unconscious bias, driving and checking our talent stats to ensure we have balance and fair representation.

 

How can employers ensure they implement a diversity and inclusion strategy that offers real change?

We believe in a holistic approach. An inclusive ethos must be championed by leadership and role-modelled from the top. At the same time it is important to encourage grassroots initiatives to develop from within the organisation. At Vodafone Ireland we have empowered our self-formed Employee Resource Groups which include the Women’s network, LGBT and Friends network and our Diversity Champions. In order to have a real impact it is important to look externally as well as internally: our diversity and inclusion D&I strategy incorporates the 4Cs of: Colleagues, Customers, Communities and Communications. We recently partnered with the 30% club and hosted the first MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) programme to be held in Ireland which meant we were able to communicate our values of gender equality beyond Vodafone.

 

How easy is it to abolish stereotypes in your industry? (online bonus question)

Abolishing stereotypes is challenging in any industry. At Vodafone Ireland we take opportunities to raise awareness of unconscious bias in order to change people’s mind-set, which in turn will change behaviour. It’s important to keep the dialogue going and keep the communication open. We encourage our employees to attend our Unconscious Bias and Moments of Truth workshops. Our D&I Manager’s toolkit enables managers to be aware of their own biases when managing their people and includes useful activities and tools to embed the spirit of Diversity and Inclusion within their teams.

CNG Commercial Engineer, Gas Networks Ireland

What can be done to attract more women into your industry?

It’s important to communicate the broad range of opportunities a career in the gas industry can provide for women interested in engineering. As an industry we tend to go about our work of keeping our world class gas network operational, without sometimes stepping back and recognising our achievements. For those interested the industry can provide the opportunity to work on large scale capital projects within an industry that constantly challenges and is always evolving into new areas. In recent years we have seen huge change in my company and are currently moving into new areas, such as the development of infrastructure for natural gas in transport and the introduction of biogas into our network.

 

Why is it beneficial for organisations to be more inclusive?

Organisations recognise that employees have a desire to work for companies where they believe they will be treated equally and where they feel there is a culture of diversity and inclusion. This kind of organisational culture where there is an emphasis on the empowerment of employees is a very attractive prospective working environment, and has come to be expected by most young graduates. It is important that our industry keeps up with other industry benchmarks in this regard.

 

If an organisation wants to build or develop an inclusive ethos, where/how should it begin?

Alongside equal opportunities for all, organisations can further develop an ethos of inclusivity by recognising and valuing some of the unique skills which women contribute to an organisation. While others may have a natural tendency to assert themselves and appear more confident in their abilities, women can sometimes lack the same confidence in their abilities and be more reluctant to put themselves forward. Employers should recognise that women possess many skills and characteristics which add huge value to an organisation and these unique skills should be rewarded through promotion. Having representation in places of power and influence is the only way women will achieve true equality in the workplace.

 

How can employers ensure they implement a diversity and inclusion strategy that offers real change?

A good starting point for organisations to implement a diversity strategy is to continue to be involved in schools programmes which promote engineering and science for all students. Gas Networks Ireland delivers a 6th class primary school science education programme called ‘Our Universe’ in partnership with Junior Achievement Ireland, and are also involved with the iWish programme. Through involvement in these programmes students are afforded the opportunity to interact with female role models working in the industry, and to understand that there are no barriers to working within the industry and being successful.

 

How easy is it to abolish stereotypes in your industry?

Having more successful female engineers in highly visible senior positions is important in addressing and abolishing any stereotypes within the industry. It is hugely important that we continue to have strong female voices around the boardroom tables of our industry, influencing the direction of organisations. The presence of strong female role models within the industry can play an important role in influencing the future career paths of young engineering graduates and should not be underestimated.

Communications & Diversity Lead, ESB Group

What can be done to attract more women into your industry?

The energy industry is heavily dependent on engineering as a core competence. The numbers of women opting to study engineering at third level remains critically low. This a real area of concern for this industry and other industries that have an ongoing need for large numbers of engineers into the future and who also need diversity amongst their workforces to drive increased innovation in technology. Research has shown that young women are attracted to areas of study where they feel they can make a difference – where there is a clear sense of purpose in this regard. In the engineering profession and in the utility business, talking about careers in engineering in the context of making a difference has never been a focus. Add to this the fact that engineering as a profession is not really understood – what do engineers do? We need to start talking about engineering for what it is – a profession that provides solutions through the application of technology and makes life better. From the electricity that powers up all the appliances that make your life better, to all the appliances themselves, to the high tech incubator that keeps a premature baby safe, engineers are behind all of that. If more young women understood the role engineering plays in making the world a better place, then it stands to reason that more will be attracted to careers in engineering.

 

Why is it beneficial for organisations to be more inclusive? (talk about your industry)

The energy industry has a major role to play in solving the single biggest issue facing humanity – climate change. Removing carbon from energy production is fast becoming the main strategic focus of utilities worldwide. High levels of technical skill and innovation will drive this ambition forward and right across the industry this sparks the need for talent and diversity. We know inclusion is the foundation upon which a diverse workforce is built. Without inclusion diversity will not exist. With that in mind the workplaces we create need to be highly inclusive not to just attract diverse talent but to retain it. Inclusive workplace practices and policiesalso result in working environments that benefit engagement levels and health and wellbeing of employees. This further drives more retention and in the case of gender diversity, keeping women and men engaged in their careers.

 

If an organisation wants to build or develop an inclusive ethos, where/how should it begin?

The organisations’ policies and processes need to very clearly state intent to make an inclusive culture possible. Once the right policies are in place, awareness of what we mean by inclusion is critical through initiatives focussed on raising awareness across the organisation. Getting people talking about why inclusion matters and connecting this back to values and purpose is critical. Hand in hand with raising awareness amongst the employee population is the need for development of managers. The lived experience of the individual must resonate with what the organisation is saying about inclusion in order to make the change happen. Senior leaders have to line up behind this message. Only if it’s important to them will it be important to the layers of management below them.

 

How can employers ensure they implement a diversity and inclusion strategy that offers real change?

We need to ensure that our ambitions for inclusion and diversity are positioned within the business ambitions and strategy. For too long inclusion and diversity has been regarded as a nice to do, something that sits alongside the business, is characterised by fluffy statements and initiatives and is not associated with hard business targets. Let’s move on. Inclusion and diversity are business critical. The evidence is clear when we look at organisational performance and compare this to the inclusion and diversity stats for those businesses. We need to have strategies that see inclusion and diversity belonging to the business and belonging to the leadership so that they drive real and meaningful change because it makes sense for the business.

 

How easy is it to abolish stereotypes in your industry? (online bonus question)

Engineering as a profession is not well understood. Couple this with the stereotype of it being a male job makes the stereotype hard to shift. We need to change the language which we use to talk about engineering. Engineering is a very creative area of science, focussed on the application of technology to solve problems and make the world a better place. We need to move away from the perspective that if you’re good at maths then you should do engineering. A more inspiring invitation to consider engineering as your area of study might be – do you want to make a real difference by working with other bright minds to collaborate andsolve the big issues facing society from climate change to food production to energy needs?If so then engineering might just be for you!