Why Produce A List Of Influential Women?

The Game-Changers

This directory has been attempting to prove a very important point over the past few years. That there are lots of influential women in Ireland and plenty of contenders for the top jobs, board positions, public life appointments and political seats. When the idea for this list first came about four years ago it was because I was constantly being told by business leaders that just weren’t enough “good women” in Ireland. So I sat at the computer one weekend and came up with over 400 names. We published that first list in Irish Tatler. The following year we had over 700 and we published it in a separate directory. Last year we have over 1000 and this year we have ??? So now that we have settled that point, for 2014 our emphasis is on the women who are pivotal to changing the landscape in Ireland.

This year is all about the game-changers. So what are the games that need to change in Ireland for women to make a difference?

What game needs to change? We need more women at the helm of powerful companies.

So how do we currently stand in terms of women in directorship positions? As of last year 20% of directorships were held by women (105,000) so we’re getting better – a rise of 14% on 2008. But according to the European Commission we still lag behind most of our European colleagues standing at 21 in 27 member states. And when it comes to the real power – the top 25 Irish listed companies – only a handful make it to executive board positions. The EC found women made up just 8.7% of board members of the largest publicly listed companies in Ireland, significantly below the EU average of 15.8%. Even when it comes to state boards all but three out of 14 government departments have failed to reach a 40% gender representation target set out in the Programme for Government.

There is one woman who I believe has been a game changer in terms of board diversity and that is Vivienne Jupp, the founder and chair of the Board Diversity Initiative that aims to make women visible. She is the non-executive Chairwoman of CIÉ, a management consultant and formerly a Global Managing Director in Accenture. She’s been tireless in her efforts to change the profile of Irish boards and to kick start a conversation around quotas. So when I think of women who are changing the game Vivienne is definitely on the list.

There are other significant players in this game that badly needs to change – some are forward thinking businesses who see the value of talented women in the boardroom and in senior positions. But there is also a list of women who are working to change the game for themselves and by default for those who come after them. Chief among them is Siobhán Talbot who was appointed last autumn as the new MD of Glanbia a €3.2 billion business which employs more than 5,000 people in 29 countries. She is only the second woman to head up a listed company in Ireland, the first being Anne Heraty of CPL the Irish recruitment group which reported record revenues in the first half of its financial year with sales up 14 per cent to €184.3 million and pre-tax profits up 17 per cent, up to €7 million. While international building materials group CRH has had a difficult year with a €755 million write down it remains Ireland’s largest company with €18 billion sales. One of the most powerful positions in CRH – that of Finance Director – is held by Maeve Carton. Her job makes her one of the most influential women in quoted Irish companies.

So while many of these women are lone voices on boards or in management teams these companies are changing the game compared to the many others with no women in positions of influence. Other game changers still working their magic are Danuta Gray, the only woman on the board of Paddy Power Plc and former CEO of O2 Ireland. Joan Garahy is the lone woman on the board of Kerry Group Plc and she is also MD of ClearView Investments & Pensions Limited, an independent financial advisory company. Earlier this year Julie O’Neill, a former secretary general of the Department of Transport was appointed non-executive director of Permanent TSB, where she is one of two women the other being Emer Daly. She is also a non-executive director of Ryanair where she is joined by another able woman Louise Phelan Pay Pal’s Ireland-based Vice President of Global Operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa (earlier this year she was appointed President of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland. Lucy Gaffney is the Chair of Denis O’Brien’s radio business group Communicorp and a board member at Independent News & Media (INM) while Gervaise Slowey was appointed Chief Executive Officer and Director of Communicorp Group Ltd. in February 2013. Communicorp in fact has a third female director – Maria Mahon, former CEO of Saongroup.com and current vice chair of ChinaHR, China’s third largest on line recruitment business. The influential Heather Ann McSharry has been changing games for some time now – the former MD Ireland of Reckitt Benckiser, non-executive director of CRH and Greencore and chairman of the Bank of Ireland Pension Fund trustee board is also the new President of the International Women’s Forum in Ireland (with some very impressive women predecessors).

I would also make mention of Sharon Buckley, Group Commercial Director at Musgrave Group, Anne O’Leary, CEO of the Irish operations for Vodafone, Carolan Lennon who was appointed managing director of Eircom Wholesale in May 2013 and Bríd Horan deputy chief executive of ESB.

What games are already changing in Ireland – who can we learn from?

There are sectors in Irish society that are already changing the game and we need to shine a spotlight on them and learn from the best. The areas I would single out where women are excelling are in law, accountancy and technology.

You will find many women partners in enlightened companies like Price Waterhouse Coopers, KPMG and Accenture. And what’s different is that women are not just silent participants most of these companies pro-actively support initiatives that help women to succeed. Notable mentions must go to Mary Cullen (Partnership Secretary) at PWC, McKinsey’s Sorcha McKenna (Partner) has been hosting Woman as Leader events, Anna Scally, KPMG and Marian Corcoran, Senior Executive Client Director at Accenture.

 The tech sector led by multi-national parent companies have similarly being changing the game – globally and here in Ireland. We have engineer Regina Moran CEO at Fujitsu Ireland, Sonia Flynn Director Facebook Ireland, Fidelma Healy CEO Gilt Ireland, Cathriona Hallahan MD Microsoft Ireland, Ann Kelleher, VP of Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group and co-general manager of Fab Sort Manufacturing, where she is responsible for seven Intel plants in Ireland, the US, China and Israel.

And in the legal profession not only do we have many titan women partners who are significant game changers such as Myra Garrett, Managing Partner at William Fry and Imelda Reynolds Partner Beauchamp’s (Former Managing Partner) but most of the top legal jobs are currently occupied by women. Ireland’s first female Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, Attorney General Máire Whelan, the first woman in the history of the State to hold the position and Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus. We also have one of the most powerful position in international law – Patricia O’Brien, Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel to the United Nations. One woman who has been changing the game in social justice is solicitor Noeline Blackwell, director general of the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC),

In the professions I feel the winds of change in the Gardaí with Noirin O’Sullivan in place as Acting Garda Commissioner – here’s hoping she will become the first female appointment to that role. Dr Rhona O’Mahony first female master of the National Maternity Hospital (Holles Street) made a big impact in 2013 and she is now joined by Dr Sharon Sheehan the first female Master of the Coombe.

What other game needs to change? We need more women in politics.

There are currently just 26 female TDs out of a total of 166 in Dail Eireann making Ireland one of the lowest in developed countries for female participation in politics. The average across 34 countries was 30% according to an OECD report in 2013 while in Ireland just over 15% of TDs and senators are women. What’s even more depressing is that the situation has hardly changed over the past decade. This is a game that many women have been slowly changing over the years.

The trailblazers date back to the first Irish woman to enter politics – Countess Constance Markievicz. In December 1918, she was the first woman elected to the House of Commons, though she did not take her seat and, along with the other Sinn Féin TDs, formed the first Dáil Éireann. As Minister for Labour in Ireland from 1919 to 1922 she was also one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position. Other notable women in politics and public life include Mary Harney the first woman Tanaiste, Presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, and all of the previous women to hold ministerial roles often being the first female to hold that particular portfolio  – Mary O’Rourke, Nora Owen, Gemma Hussey, Mary Coughlan, Sile de Valera, Mary Hannafin, Eileen Desmond and Niamh Bhreathnach. Of the 15 ministerial positions at the Cabinet table currently only two are held by women Frances Fitzgerald Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and Joan Burton Minister for Social Protection. There are two female junior ministers – Jan O’Sullivan Minister of State for Housing and Planning and Kathleen Lynch Minister of State with special responsibility for Disability, Equality and Mental Health. Another woman who blazed a trail is Máire Geoghegan-Quinn – who spread her wings to Europe and is the current European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. Irish Tatler has awarded many influential women at the Women of the Year Awards including Catherine Day the highest-ranking civil servant in Europe – secretary general of the European Commission.

While all of these women have broken new ground and build a foundation for the future of women in politics two women stand out in 2014 as game-changers.

Michelle O’Donnell Keating and Niamh Gallagher are co-founders of Women for Election which grew out of Women for Europe, established during the 2009 Lisbon treaty referendum. Finally we are seeing a change. Women for Election provides practical support in terms or training, networking and coaching for women who want to enter politics. These two women have inspired a new generation to enter politics at grass root level. At the time of writing this there were 409 women nominated to run in the local elections and 1,283 men a seven percent rise on the last local elections with 24% of nominations female. In 2012 the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 was passed which will see parties lose half of their central exchequer funding unless the minority sex (women) among their candidates accounts for 30 per cent of the entire national ticket at the next general election. While it doesn’t ensure that more women are elected it does go some way to having more on the ticket. That along with the efforts of Women for Election could lead to more significant changes ahead.

What game needs to change? We need more women entrepreneurs.

My final game changers are women who have the potential to make a significant impact on women entrepreneurship in Ireland. Gina Quin CEO of Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Ann Horan Chief Executive of the DCU Ryan Academy, Jean O’Sullivan female entrepreneurship manager at Enterprise Ireland and Paula Fitzsimmons who has been diligently helping women develop their businesses in her superb programme Going of Growth. But I have reserved the biggest game changer award to the broad shoulders of Julie Sinnamon who last year became the first ever woman CEO of Enterprise Ireland. She is already making an impact so 2014 could be the start of some serious changes to the games that Ireland needs to change.