Anne Marie has a long-standing interest in women in business, which includes co-founding the Board Diversity Initiative, which promotes the appointment of women on boards, and as a steering committee member of the 30% Club.
She recently set up a new venture, Career Returners, which provides consultancy, coaching and training services both for people who want to return to the workforce after an extended absence, and for organizations who want to access this new talent pool. Having worked for many years with Accenture, Anne-Marie has had a portfolio career over the last few years. She is non-executive director, currently on the board of the Public Appointments Service and the Irish Hospice Foundation. She is also an executive coach and a freelance management consultant.
HERizon: Who are the 30% Club and why was this group formed?
Anne-Marie: The 30% Club is a group of Chairs and CEOs committed to better gender balance at all levels of their organisations through voluntary actions. It was originally set up in the UK in 2010 with a goal of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards by 2015. This goal has been achieved and has been extended to a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-350 boards by 2020.
In Ireland, we have a similar problem with the lack of female representation at board and executive management level and so the 30% Club Ireland was formally launched in Ireland in January 2015. It’s run by a steering group, chaired by Carol Andrews from BNY Mellon.
HERizon: How many members do you have?
Anne-Marie: There are now 170 supporters across the full spectrum of the Irish business community. Each supporting organisation also nominates a council member who attends our events and disseminates our updates within their own organisation.
HERizon: The 30% Club is an incredible collaboration between women, men and organisations. How does this goodwill manifest itself?
Anne-Marie: There is no membership fee for being a supporter of the 30% Club. The steering committee and many others give their time voluntarily. Several of our large corporate supporters generously host our meetings and events, and sponsor the cost of our publications. Others voluntarily work with us to progress initiatives such as our mentoring initiative in conjunction with the IMI and our scholarship programs.
HERizon: HERizon has three pillars – championing female leadership, promoting gender equality and highlighting barriers to female progression. What are the 30% Club’s goals and objectives?
Anne-Marie: The overall goal of the 30% Club in Ireland is to achieve sustainable gender balance in Irish business leadership with an initial target of at least 30% female representation on boards and senior management by 2020. That’s a tall order given the percentage of women on boards is currently hovering around 15% but having an aspirational goal gets the conversation going.
Our 3 pillars support our objectives:
- To increase awareness of the value of gender balance in business leadership and to develop an understanding of the factors contributing to the current imbalance thus building commitment to action for change.
- To support organisations in identifying and implementing measure to accelerate progress towards gender balance.
- To support individuals by promoting and delivering initiatives that support women’s career development and building their management expertise.
HERizon: What have been the biggest wins for the 30% Club?
Anne-Marie: At a high level, we are particularly proud that the 30% Club has established itself as a very credible voice for the promotion of gender balance in business in the space of just a few years, and that our supporters represent a very high proportion of the most progressive Irish organisations. There are a number of 30% Clubs around the world, and the Irish chapter is generally recognised for the significant impact it has had in engaging effectively with the business community.
In terms of specific wins, we have driven a number of key initiatives since 2015 including:
- Scholarships – we have partnered with a number of third level institutions to offer scholarships to women for post-graduate management education.
- Mentoring programs – in conjunction with the IMI, we developed a cross-company mentoring scheme. Since it was instigated 2 years ago, 112 leaders have benefitted from the scheme. At least 50% of the mentees from each company must be female.
- Research – with the support of DCU and BNY Mellon we conducted research in 2015 and 2016 on the number of women at various levels of management in Irish business. We plan to continue the research for the next three years, with IBEC on board as an additional partner this year. The research provides a benchmark against which to measure progress in developing the pipeline of female business leaders.
- National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017 – 2020 – we were pleased to make a submission this year to the National Strategy for Women and Girls and we welcome its publication. We recognise that change can only be brought about in business if society as a whole changes.
- Executive Search Code – we liaised with IBEC and a number of executive search firms to develop a voluntary code to help organisations achieve gender balance in decision-making roles and hire the right candidate for the job, male or female, from 100% of the talent pool.
HERizon: What have been the 30% Clubs biggest challenges?
Anne-Marie: The biggest challenge is that despite the great initiatives that the 30% Club and many other organisations and companies have instigated, the pace of change is simply glacial. The argument that it’s just a matter of time before the initiatives bear fruit is one that we have heard for way too long. For example, despite all the focus in recent years on the importance of appointing women to boards, just 17% of appointments to Irish plc boards in 2016 were female. This is 1% above the replacement rate so at this rate of progress it will take generations to achieve gender balance. We really need to understand better why so little progress is being made despite everybody’s best efforts.
HERizon: Tell us about the scholarships the 30% Club offer and where women can apply?
Anne-Marie: The details of the scholarships are available on our website, but in summary we have partnerships with DCU, the IMI, NUI Galway, UCD Smurfit School, Trinity College Dublin and the University of Limerick. Most of the scholarships are for MBAs or other post-graduate executive education programs. In general, the courses run during the academic year so they are advertised usually in May/June.
HERizon: There is research which suggests that ‘unconscious bias’ is one of the barriers to female progression in organisations. Do you agree?”
Anne-Marie: Yes, ‘unconscious bias’ is one of the key factors which consistently emerges in the research on female career progression. It is an ongoing aim of the 30% Club to support male business leaders in becoming authentic and effective leaders for inclusion and gender balance and so we have developed an “Engaging Men” workshop which addresses unconscious bias. The workshop has been very well received.
HERizon: Have you noticed a changing landscape for women trying to get ahead?
Anne-Marie: I’ve certainly noticed that there is much greater awareness in the business community that the lack of women in leadership positions is a business issue. I remember former President Mary McAleese using the analogy of trying to fly a plane on one wing. Why would any rational organisation ignore half the talent pool? Happily, we are finding that the debate has moved on. We no longer have to justify why there should be more women in senior levels of business. Organisations are now focused on how we make it happen. To me, that’s progress.
HERizon: What 3 top tips would you give to women looking to get promoted in their organization?
Anne-Marie: Don’t assume that simply because you do good work, you’ll get noticed. Tell them how good you are.
- Knock on the door. Knock again. Knock again. Be resilient.
- Seek opportunities to move outside your comfort zone.
- And another one, if you find it hard to do the above, think about getting a coach.
HERizon: What would you say are a woman’s top strengths?
Anne-Marie: This is a tricky one. I’m not sure that women have a monopoly on any particular strengths but in general the women I know and respect are supportive of each other, are extremely capable, get things done, and live their values.
HERizon: How can organisations sign up to the 30% Club?
Anne-Marie: If organisations are interested in signing up they can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or of course they can contact me directly at email@example.com.
This interview was conducted by Maura Jakksen Byrne, HERizon. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org