Culture change needed to bridge female leader gap, conference hears

By Pádraig Hoare

A change of societal attitudes and culture rather than gender quotas will lead to more female chief executives and business leaders, a conference organised by University College Cork (UCC) students has heard.

Delegates Gill Healy, Amy Cunningham and Molly Guilfoyle at the 36th annual UCC Commerce Conference at Vertigo, County Hall, Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins.

KPMG partner and co-founder of the iWish movement that encourages girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), Caroline O’Driscoll was speaking at the 36th annual Commerce Conference at Cork County Hall.

Ms O’Driscoll, who is chair of voluntary IT organisation IT@Cork, said not enough women were being promoted to the top jobs in business.

She said countries like Norway had imposed boardroom gender quotas of 40% female representation but that only 2% of women had gone on to become chief executives.

It was change in culture needed rather than the imposition of gender quotas, she said.

Ms O’Driscoll said despite progress in the intake of women in graduate business roles in recent years, change had not taken place at the top.

“The numbers don’t lie. Less than 17% of boardroom positions in the world are women. It’s not great and we have a long way to go,” she said.

Other speakers at the event, of which the Irish Examiner is media partner, including managing partner at law firm Ronan Daly Jermyn, Richard Martin; Irish Fiscal Advisory Council economist Ide Kearney; and managing director of Laya Healthcare, Dónal Clancy.

Mr Martin told students of the importance of taking opportunities when they came along, saying he overcame his dislike of public speaking when the chance to become managing partner of his firm came up.

Founder of human resources firm HR Suite, Caroline McEnery told attendees that although artificial intelligence would render some current roles obsolete in the future, the importance of “emotional intelligence” and people skills would always be vital.

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