On International Women's Day, we celebrate the achievements of women and highlight the importance of equality in leadership to create positive and productive work environments. We caught up with some of our successful women in leadership roles at publicjobs.ie who share their personal experiences in their careers and offer advice and inspiration to others to help them build fulfilling careers.
Siobhán McKenna, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at publicjobs.ie
1. This year's International Women's Day theme is Choose to Challenge. From your perspective, what are the benefits of choosing to challenge?
Challenge is essential. It makes us all stronger when we question, challenge and debate ideas and issues. Real sustainable change comes from challenging ourselves and those around us to be and do better.
2. What would you say to women considering a career in the public and civil service?
Go for it! If you want to make a difference to your community or country the civil service/public sector is where you will get the chance to do that in a meaningful way.
3. What's the best piece of leadership advice you were ever given?
Speak the truth, even when your voice shakes.
4. What do you think is the biggest issue facing women and their careers today?
All women face attitudinal and structural barriers that can often impact on their career. These will vary depending on where a woman is in her career and where she wants to go. For mothers and carers, the very real structural barriers include the lack of affordable, flexible childcare and real flexible working opportunities. Mothers in the workforce also face a 'motherhood penalty' – the impact of the time out of the workforce to bear and raise children has on their career and earning potential. The resilience of the patriarchy continues to affect women in the workplace too. Gender based bias, inequality, discrimination and harassment are still very real elements in today's workplace for women. You can see it in the gender segregation across sectors, you will see in pay gaps in organisations when reporting starts, in the #Metoo campaign and you can see in the rate of unemployment for women during the pandemic, for example. The post-COVID19 rapidly changing world of work will have pros (better life balance) and cons (harder to progress, less security) for women in all sectors.
5. In your opinion, why is it important that more women take up careers in sectors where they are currently underrepresented?
Representation matters. You cannot be what you cannot see!
What is really important is that women have the choice to work in any sector or industry they want to work in, including those traditionally seen as male-dominated. No sector or industry should be closed off to women solely because they are women.
As more women move into sectors like tech for example, you would expect to see the gender pay gap close, ensuring those who follow don't face the same levels of structural inequality or discrimination that previous women did. (You would also expect to see better tech companies with diverse workforces who are innovating and creating for the benefit of everyone too!).
6. What barriers have you faced in becoming successful in your field and how did you overcome them?
As a woman of colour in the workplace, I frequently come up against people's pre-conceived notions about my intersectionality as well as their unconscious and conscious biases. I face the same structural gender-based inequality in the workforce that other women do. In my previous job there was a 4% gender pay gap and a 14% ethnicity pay gap. To overcome barriers I work hard, try hard to never let other people's opinions define me or my work and challenge when I have to. I get involved in staff networks and committees to help shape my own workplace, to 'be the change' I want to see. I look for opportunities to collaborate with senior management and leaders, which helps build positive relationships. And, most importantly, I find solidarity and inspiration from the people I work with to collectively remove those barriers to progression we all face.
7. Which female leaders inspire you and why?
Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US House of Representative – they are the future of women leaders in the US. They are fierce and unapologetic in their mission to make America a better place, particularly for the most vulnerable in their society.
Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin – a fine example of the next generation of Irish women leaders. And her courage in the face of appalling racism as a mixed-race Irish woman in the public space is commendable. Loujain al-Hathloul, Saudi Arabia women's rights activist and all women in oppressive countries who put their own liberty and lives on the line for basic freedom and equality for women and girls. Malala Yosef is a remarkable and courageous young woman who is a powerful global advocate for the education of girls around the world. Angela Merkel, her longevity is impressive. She has a moral compass (evident when offering sanctuary to Syrian refugees) and she is smart, competent, empathetic, and very pragmatic.
8. What important message would you share with young women thinking about their future careers?
- Know your own worth
- Find your voice as soon as you can and never be afraid to use it
- Put your hand up for jobs no one else wants to do
- Do not stay where you are not valued or respected
- Make sure you lift other women with you as you rise