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Embracing Equity in the Workplace: Insights from Female Leaders

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

With the theme of International Women’s Day being #EmbraceEquity this year, we sat down for a discussion with some of our members here at Iconic Offices who are leaders in their respective fields. We asked Dee Coakley, CEO & Co-Founder of Boundless, Mary White, Operations Manager at Stobbs Ireland, Emer Kennedy, Executive Coach and Founder at Mind Canopy, and Ailbhe O’Dwyer, Associate Director at Interpath Advisory Ireland, to share their thoughts on how to embrace equity in the workplace, changes that they would like to see in the workplace and the best advice they’ve received as leaders.

Sustaining a Diverse Workplace

There are many benefits to having a diverse workplace, such as curating new ideas and processes and allowing for a broader range of skillsets amongst employees.

Ailbhe O'Dwyer spoke with us about the importance of recognizing the benefits of a diverse workplace but how it’s important to also allow the opportunity for growth.

"Many organisations hire for diversity but fail to provide equitable opportunities for the advancement of their diverse hires. Companies need to empower diverse employees by giving equitable promotions and upholding diverse representation in leadership and management positions.”

For Dee Coakley, to allow for diversity in the workplace, business owners need to ask themselves the hard questions. Why does the team look a certain way? Why is the team not more diverse?

“Business owners must ensure they have a pipeline in place to allow diverse candidates to apply for roles in their company. However, embracing equity means more than just having a diverse team; it means ensuring everyone has equal opportunities and scope to progress into leadership positions. I think a lot of people throw their hands up in the air and say, I don’t get the candidates. You have to be prepared to have the uncomfortable conversations because everyone has that unconscious bias. It’s figuring out where those biases are coming from and then the really hard thing is what you do to address that and how you’re going to take action as a leader.”

Representative Workplaces

Emer Kennedy, had been working for nearly 10 years in Sales and HR at Google before she began her own business at Mind Canopy.

Leaders she admired fostered nonbiased approaches, emphasized representation, and focused on inclusive practices in their teams. As she builds out her own global team, adopting these standards is vital when it comes to better business outcomes.

“I’d like to see workplaces that are truly representative at all levels in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, abilities, age, social-demographics, religious beliefs and sexual orientation - only then will we work in environments that reflect today's world.”

Mary White, believes that entire workplaces need to be respectful and more aware of all elements within their ecosystem. She notes that we tend to only look one way in our careers, seeing success as a progression of promotions 'toward the top', but that we need to value individuals and the interplay between them to bring out the best in a team.

“Everybody has to play their part to progress the team’s missions, and everybody has to be as healthy and happy as possible, to be at their best. That requires a lot of awareness, a lot of trust and understanding within the team. There will be times when people don’t perform. There will be times when things go wrong. In my opinion, vision alone isn’t enough. The teams of the future will need leaders who use a lot of resilience and interpersonal skills to co-ordinate and motivate these dynamic, responsive, high-performing teams.”

Best Advice Received as Leaders

For Dee, the best advice she received recently that stuck with her is that not everything has to be perfect, and that it is okay for things to feel messy and awkward. Leaders should not let this hold them back, but instead focus on solving smaller problems first.

“You might be trying to solve this massive problem, you’re trying to figure out how to achieve your end-of-year targets, but just look at what you’re doing now, and figure out how you can close one more customer a week, just solve the smaller problems first. Break down the big chunky problems into smaller ones, and go from there, don’t try to tackle everything head on.”

Ailbhe O’Dwyer notes the importance of listening, which is very different from hearing.

“I think it is extremely important to hear people and help them understand what you’re trying to say rather than what you want them to hear. Empathy plays a large part in how I strive to be daily, and I believe understanding the needs of others, and being aware of their feelings and thoughts hugely contributes to increased trust, effective communication and a sense of worth to team members.”

Mentorship Programs

Emer Kennedy recommends the Women's Forum in Deauville, France. ‘I have attended the forum on several occasions and loved it. The agenda is focused on how we women can impact global issues and it attracts great speakers.”

Mary White recommends Acorns and Going for Growth, two mentorship program which have been hugely helpful to women in business in Ireland. Mary is also a volunteer with Work Equal whose mission is to provide innovative, targeted services and programs to help people (re)entering the workplace to reach sustained economic independence. “I am very proud to have been a mentor for WorkEqual or some years now and I am constantly inspired by the bravery of women taking their next step.”

Dee Coakley recommends the Enterprise Ireland competitive start fund, where they do one call every year that’s just for women in business. “They do several calls throughout the year that have different themes, where they have a good gender balance in how they allocate funding to each business.”

Ailbhe O’Dwyer suggests reaching out to someone outside of your organisation whom you admire for their career and what they have achieved and asking them for mentorship advice in your related field as this can be extremely beneficial.

From recognizing the importance of diverse representation in leadership and management positions to valuing the individuals and interplay within a team, these women shared their valuable insights on creating more equitable workplaces. We hope their perspectives will encourage more leaders to take meaningful steps towards equity and inspire women to pursue their career aspirations with confidence.


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