My thoughts following the “Promoting gender balanced leadership conference” at Dublin Castle

Gender Balanced Leadership

I attended the recent conference on “Promoting gender balanced leadership” at Dublin Castle. It was a great day, with about 20 top class speakers. I was interested in the diversity and gender balance issue at the leadership level for business in particular and thought I would share some of the learnings from the day.

Why is it critical in the first place?

Gender balance in businesses and at every level –from entry to executive board level- is a strategic business issue. Aongus Hegarty, President EMEA from Dell, encouraged businesses to think about diversity in all its forms, diversity in age, nationality, sexual orientation, societal, as well as gender balance. Dell believes that this diversity is critical to keep ahead in today’s very rapidly changing environment.

It’s critical to encourage leadership thinking that reflects the values and construction of society and the marketplace. And it’s critical because it brings different, more challenging and relevant perspectives to the table.  More diverse teams create more innovation and better product flow. There’s a direct link between diversity and employee engagement and it also attracts today’s top talent, who seek out diverse, great places to work.

And ultimately, apart from just being fair, it enables better decision making and produces better business results.

So how do we get there?

Here are some of the recommendations from the great panel of speakers –who agreed that the conversation has fortunately moved on from “fixing the women and blaming the men!”

  • Firstly, it must be believed in and supported by the CEO, who needs to provide clear leadership to drive gender balance and indeed diversity and inclusion as a theme in the business. Mark Ryan –the former MD of Accenture- was responsible for spearheading gender balanced leadership, with concerted programmes such as “Accent on Women” resulting in a business where 40% of senior executives today are female. He believes it must be led from the top and it must be the relentless focus of the CEO.  He feels that men need to sponsor more women.
  • It then critically needs the understanding and support of the executive and non-executive boards, who drive and roll it out from there.  They must firstly educate themselves. They need to understand then articulate the benefits for all. They must walk the talk, as it all comes from taking action and being role models.  Ask male board members “would you want your daughter to work here” as a means of kick-starting some thinking!
  • Mark McLane, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Barclays Bank believes that having a diverse board in the first place naturally influences the diversity agenda- so if you can, start there.
  • Josephine Feehily, Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners suggested making the challenge public and discussable.
  • Don’t make it all about women to the exclusion of men. It’s important to engage men when driving gender balance –they can’t disappear from the dialogue. Dell run a programme called “Marc- Men Advocating Real Change”.
  • Need to set targets on gender balance (not necessarily quotas) and on diversity and then measure against them. Metrics are critical- but don’t only measure the female element. Measure if we are inclusive leaders of all of our population.


Recruiting diverse leadership-some thoughts

  • A diverse talent pipeline is critical and businesses need to proactively plan for this.
  • For internal talent, we need to ensure that high potential programme criteria are gender neutral and don’t focus only on stereotypical criteria.
  • Simple things like ensuring the interview panel is diverse, will help in the selection process of diverse candidates.
  • Having agencies that buy into this ethos and who provide diverse, balanced shortlists of candidates is key
  • And a little gem from the very inspiring Stephen Frost-the UK Head of Diversity & Inclusion at KPMG-It’s easier to make more diverse talent decisions when you are recruiting a few roles together, rather than one at a time.  So choose diversity in bundles- or you will get homogeneity when decisions are made one by one.

There were other great insights from the day, which I will share shortly.

For any comments please contact me, Sandra Lawler, Founder & Director of the Alternatives Group and Alternatives Elect, our global executive search business at