Last night Trinity’s Dining Hall played host to the Women’s Leadership Conference, an event organised by the Trinity Student Managed Fund (SMF) and sponsored by Davy and the Trinity Business Alumni. The aim of the event was to bring together business leaders, Trinity alumni, and current students to network and to gain exposure to successful business people. The Dining Hall was packed to capacity, with women composing the majority of the audience. Attendees were welcomed upon arrival with a glass of wine as they made their way to their seats in the grand and impressive hall, a venue that set the tone for an interesting and very inspirational evening.
The organiser of the event, Marie Louise O’Callaghan, a second year Business and French student and the SMF Women in Business leader, opened the evening by quoting Facebook CFO, Sheryl Sandberg, as having said: “In the future there will be no female leaders, there will just be leaders.” Marie Louise continued on to introduce the Global Chair of the 30% Club, Brenda Trenowden, who gave a keynote address.
Trenowden explained the purpose and actions of the 30% Club, which include a number of initiatives that look to broaden the pipeline of women at all levels, from “schoolroom to boardroom”. She explained that women in business is not a social issue, but a financial one: “The key thing is that this is good for business.” She also highlighted the success of the 30% Club, referencing the fact that between 2010 and 2015 the number of all-male boards in the FTSE 100 largest companies fell from 21 to 0, due in large part to initiatives run by the Club.
“What if men had babies?” was the question asked by Dearbhail McDonald as she recited a satirical and witty story which told of Nobel prizes for men who endured labour, of affordable childcare written into constitutions and of premenstrual tension being the ultimate sexual turn on. McDonald was very well received by the audience as she brought a note of humour to the evening and I thoroughly enjoyed her enthusiasm and optimism. As Group Business Editor of Independent News and Media, McDonald chaired the discussion and welcomed the four panellists: Independent TD, Stephen Donnelly; CEO of Cpl Resources, Anne Heraty; Managing Director of Microsoft Ireland, Cathriona Hallahan; and Co. Head of Investment Banking at J.P. Morgan, Ina De.
Many issues were discussed by the panel throughout the evening, and in my opinion the questions posed by McDonald were answered directly and honestly by all panellists, giving the audience an insight into their respective business worlds. One issue which was first tackled by Hallahan, but was often referred to during the event, was that of the problem of not enough women making it to senior management level. Many firms can take up upwards of 50% of women in at graduate level, however as women reach their mid 30s and start to climb the ladder we see a much smaller proportion of women present. Ina De explained the cause of this problem as she referred to the issue of childcare costs and how these costs are rarely put on a man’s shoulders, a “cultural hurdle” which we need to tackle.
De went on to say that as a working mother herself she believes that children with two parents will perform better and that society needs to change its outlook on this issue: “There are so many myths we need to bust. Two parents working is not a problem, it is a really good thing.”
An issue which was raised by Stephen Donnelly, the “token man” of the evening, that I found particularly relevant was the difference in attitude towards women’s performance in the worlds of business and politics. Donnelly moved from working in McKinsey to becoming an Independent TD, a move which in his opinion saw the attitude switch from “an impact-based issue to a value-and-human-rights-based issue”. In his opinion, the impact-based issue is most important as this approach looks at all employees as people and not as male and female; whoever has the most impact on the bottom line will succeed, an opinion which I found myself agreeing with.
The evening concluded with a Q&A session, with a number of questions asked by members of the audience. Issues raised included working parents and part-time roles, women of colour in business, how women can be ambitious and how can we change society’s gender stereotypes. A canapé and drinks reception in the Atrium provided a perfect opportunity for post-conferencing networking and allowed the students a chance to introduce themselves to some of the finest business leaders in the country. The general consensus was of a very successful evening enjoyed by all, and a huge congratulation is in order to Marie Louise and the SMF Women in Business group for organising an event with such a high calibre of guests who provided a thought-provoking and inspirational evening.