Public Affairs

Northern Ireland must embrace diversity to realise its true potential

Diverse workforces and leadership teams make for more successful and productive businesses and organisations, writes Roseann Kelly, Chief Executive of Women in Business.

In 2016 Women in Business, Northern Ireland’s largest and fastest growing business network for female entrepreneurs and business leaders, launched its first manifesto, with one of our four main pillars being Diversity. Under this pillar we have worked diligently with our partners, existing and new, to deliver change and greater opportunity for women across the local economy.

Progress has been made and of the UK regions, Northern Ireland has seen the largest narrowing of its gender pay gap since 2000, falling from 22 per cent to 6 per cent. Northern Ireland now has the lowest gender earnings gap in the UK, however, much more work still must be done.

Just one-fifth of the board members in Northern Ireland’s top 100 companies are female and less than a third of Northern Ireland’s most important jobs are held by women. According to the World Economic Forum: gender parity has not only come to a halt; it has widened for the first time since 2006.

These figures are simply not representative of the female talent and expertise we have available in Northern Ireland, as demonstrated by our members and ever-growing business community. They reaffirm the fear that gender equality will not be achieved in our lifetime. More shockingly, according to the World Economic Forum’s global index we won’t see gender equality achieved until 2186.

However, as businesswomen, we must continue to make the necessary strides needed to promote and encourage diversity in business and I believe Women in Business are doing just that.

For the past 15 years we have supported diversity and facilitated women’s positive contributions to the economy and society of Northern Ireland by developing every member’s professional skills, connections and confidence to achieve their ambition.

In 2017 Women in Business, with over 300 of Northern Ireland’s business leaders in attendance, launched the Gender Diversity Charter Mark which enables organisations to identify and reflect on institutional barriers facing women that impact on their career progression and in doing so helps progress the overall diversity agenda, and the working environment for all employees in the organisation.

Under our Diversity pillar we appointed male gender diversity champions who, with Women in Business, have gone on a journey to deliver the Charter Mark and we continue to host events such as the Business of Diversity Lunch to support businesses in their reassessment of their gender diversity procedures.

Most recently, at this year’s third Female Entrepreneurial Conference we launched our ‘Yes You Can’ programme, a three-year business start-up and growth programme aimed at young female entrepreneurs throughout Northern Ireland. We believe it is vital to celebrate and recognise the success of young businesses to enable them to grow and become more diverse.

Our pioneering and long-standing work as a business network recognises the invaluable role diversity plays as economic drivers and we are committed to creating and strengthening a new economy through inclusive growth.

Now more than ever, with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the collapse of the devolved institutions and the widening gender pay gap, the voice of Northern Ireland’s people and businesses must be heard. It is imperative that local politicians work together with Dublin, London and Brussels as well as other devolved regions; and that the business community work collectively to communicate their concerns and promote change.

The evidence is abundantly clear, businesses and organisations with diverse workforces, senior management teams and boards are more successful and productive that those that are not. Our economy and society benefit as a result.

For further information on the Charter Mark and to sign up visit www.diversity-mark-ni.co.uk

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