Challenging the status quo pushes us to be better

Bank of Ireland held their first International Women’s Day event in Galway on Tuesday evening. Here’s a recap on what happened.

If we had to use a single word to describe the International Women’s Day panel discussion in Workbench Galway, it might be robust. The packed, standing room-only co-working space featured an eclectic and accomplished, eloquent and esteemed panel of speakers. Moderator Loretta Ni Gabhann (CEO Lorg Media) deftly switching from English to as Gaeilge opened the discussion with the question of diversity in the workplace.

Female and not so female dominated industries

First responder Vanessa Creavan, co-founder of dental business Spotlight Whitening which is scaling throughout UK, Norway and Finland along with the United Arab Emirates, spoke of the ironic attractiveness of dentistry to women, playfully stating “obviously for most people it’s your worst nightmare (going to the dentist), but its attractive for women to go into. 54% of dental practitioners worldwide are female, and in ten years’ time, I believe it will be 80%”. On the opposite end of this spectrum, two-time triathlete supremo Joanne Murphy knows what it means to be the titular voice at the table, as the only female voice in Ironman across EMEA. Murphy beautiful articulated the significance of her position in a mostly male dominated industry, “If you run down the finish line, it is my voice you will hear, I am the only female voice you will hear in Ironman, in Ireland and in the entire EMEA.”

A gender neutral space

Gill Carroll, entrepreneur and owner of 56 Central and 37 West, reminded us of the attention she devotes to building balance in “gender neutral workplaces”, one where human needs and core values are prioritised so as to have a “culture where everyone can work and we can work at balancing this together”. Rapt by Carroll’s obvious authenticity, she challenged the audience and panel to eschew conventional thinking, demanding “we stop meeting as a group of women, men don’t know what we want, we have to talk to them”, further reinforcing the point by her refusal to attend an Oslo all-female event “because we are just talking to each other”.

Innovating the old

Shaking the dust from the gender equality topic, Alan Hartley reminded us of our not too distant past, when Irish women’s matrimony was celebrated with terminating her employment. For the Hibernian Bank (later to become Bank of Ireland) that meant bestowing their soon-to-be married staff with one gold sovereign or two half sovereigns if you married a colleague. From symbols of discrimination to symbols of hope, Hartley and his boss, Andrew Keating (Chief Financial Officer) have, thankfully, transformed the tradition, gifting them to trailblazers, innovators and champions of change across Ireland, those who are supporting and striving for greater inclusion and diversity in our society.

It’s cultural, stupid

Examining the macro-forces impacting achieving balance, Dr. Lisa and Vanessa Creavan cited “we have 15 women working together, we see the challenges women face in the work place and we need to be open to the idea of new ways of working, not necessarily 40 hours. We need to be flexible and we also need the men in our lives to step-up”. Gill Carroll added, “We’ve watched the videos, we’ve read the books, we’ve done enough, we need environments where everyone’s needs are recognised, from the top down. The corporate perspective chimed, Hartley finished, “It’s not about metrics – it’s about cultural change, creating an environment where ambitious women can progress, where it’s a level playing field. In Bank of Ireland we’ve managed to make people feel that this is important and it’s not going away.”

What happened in Workbench Galway, with this group of individuals who are challenging the status quo has roots that extend far beyond the activities of International Women’s Day (and week), they deepened our perspectives and stimulated our resolve to do better and be better.

By Lesley Tully.