International Women’s Day was celebrated on Wednesday 8th March and it saw a huge number of gatherings, conferences and corporate events across Ireland and beyond. International Women’s Day is a time for women around the world to celebrate their achievements and to review the level of progress within gender diversity.

Today, Realex is celebrating the occasion in style with a women’s networking breakfast for our team of over 35 women in Dublin. We also took this opportunity to sit down with some of our senior leaders at Global Payments to discuss the role of women in the workplace, along with gender pay disparity, the concept of quotas on boards in publicly listed companies and how we can #BeBoldForChange in 2017 and beyond.

Why should everyone care about International Women’s Day?

Angela Bergin, Head of Strategic Delivery, Worldwide Ecom, Global Payments: I see two important themes that International Women’s Day represents. The first theme is that it celebrates the achievements of women and recognises their contribution to society. The second theme is that it is a checkpoint for a call for parity. The interesting point here is that not only are we a long way from gender parity (for example, the World Economic Forum calculates it will be 170 years to global gender parity), but also that progress is not necessarily linear. Progress slips back and forth so it is important to have an annual checkpoint to assess and report progress.

Jason Sharples, Senior Vice President, Application Delivery, Global Payments: International Women’s Day is also time to take stock of women’s lives in the world today. In the developing world especially, so much work remains to ensure that women are educated, empowered and free to be contributing members of equal and safe societies. Global Payments is lucky to have businesses throughout the world and we strive to ensure that we treat every member of our business – employees, the leadership team and suppliers – equally.

Angela: There are four building blocks that the World Economic Forum uses to rank countries for gender parity: education, health, economics and politics. Ireland ranks quite high – 6th in the world – for gender parity, but not equally across all pillars. For educational attainment and access to health services, Ireland is performing well, but we still have room to progress when it comes to economic participation, and political empowerment. When the building blocks are in place, such as health and education, the rest should follow.

Ciara Donlevy, Financial Controller, Realex Payments:  It’s worth noting that 5 years ago in Ireland, the pay gap between men and women in Ireland was at the lowest point, which was a fantastic achievement, but the gap has widened since then. The most recent Morgan McKinley Gender Pay Gap report states that the average gender pay gap in Ireland in 2016 stands at 20%. It varies across industry; tech is performing slightly better at 7% and accountancy has an average pay gap of 5% between men and women.

Why do you think there is a variation in the pay gaps across industries?

Gina Laverty, Vice President for European Finance, Global Payments: I think certain firms have become conscious of the cost of gender inequality to the business because they train young professionals. Implementing this training is time-intensive and also represents a massive investment for firms. That’s why, if a woman leaves the workforce in their early or mid-thirties due to family commitments, these firms can truly quantify this as a loss of revenue. It has a direct impact on the bottom line, so there is a conscious effort to train and retain women.

Angela: I started my career with a firm that has a focus on the benefits of diversity and so this became the norm from the start of my career. Some of my drivers to join Realex were the diversity of the organisation already in place, along with the high performance culture and meritocracy.

Ciara: I think there are some societal biases around subjects that are aimed towards girls/boys at a young age. The government has recognised this and launched a campaign to try and attract more girls into STEM subjects. With the advent of a digitally augmented age, this is key to ensure that the gender pay gap doesn’t widen further.  In addition, careers in some of these areas afford a degree of flexibility in the workplace, which can become a real benefit for women that have family commitments.

Why do you think it is important to have a diverse group in this interview panel today?

Jason: Every self-contained group will echo the perspective of each other, so every group needs diversity to be truly objective. Also I do believe that men need to be more aware of the challenges that women face, through for example, open and honest settings like this panel.

Gina: For me, it is good to have an open forum about why it is important to have International Women’s Day. Men may joke, why don’t we make more of deal around ‘International Men’s Day’, but that is a valid question – we should discuss what challenges each gender faces – because they exist on both sides.

Angela: That’s a good point, the same stereotypes exist for both women and men. Gender stereotypes can be harmful across the board as they limit someone’s capacity for growth, so diversity helps to diminish these stereotypes and help team members to flourish across the board.

Jason: It should not be ‘we need more women to meet our diversity target’, it needs to be sincere. It is not about seeking representation, it is about seeking value from differing viewpoints.

Angela: The Senior Management Team at Realex is also 30% women, and has been for some time, without the need to implement a Diversity and Inclusion Programme. Its great to see that we proactively hire, develop and retain top talent, regardless of gender.

The CEO of EY, Mark A. Weinberger, says that companies that advance women into leadership roles have more engaged workforces, stronger cultures and improved economic performance. Why do you think this is?

Gina: Organisations thrive and perform when they have top talent. To access top talent we need to broaden the candidate pool, and therefore to welcome diversity – be it in relation to gender, or indeed age, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or disability. Once that talent is in place we optimise the chances of high performance by enabling each and every individual to bring all of themselves – their skills, their passions, their talents – to work. To do this, we need to be open and inclusive. Specifically with regard to women in leadership roles, it changes the dynamic and expands perspectives. Women assess risk differently, they empathise with customers and employees differently, they interrogate problems and solutions differently. All of this can only add value for a business.

Jason: Absolutely, and the objective is not necessarily 50/50, it could be 40/60, it could be 60/40 – the objective is that it represents diversity in the workforce. If the workforce is made up of mostly men or mostly women, then this should be represented at leadership level too.

This brings us onto the concept of new EU legislation, which aims to attain a minimum of 40% of women on boards in publicly listed companies – what are your thoughts on this legislation?

Gina: When a minimum number of women on a board is enforced, it begs the question, do women deserve their seat. Quotas discriminate against the individual and they risk men being left out in favour of women who are ‘making up a quota’.

Ciara: I think quotas serve a purpose for a period of time in order to counteract sub-conscious gender bias however to Gina’s point, the quota should represent the underlying pools of talent. We can’t underestimate the power of seeing and believing … role models who pave the path are powerful motivators. That’s why gender quotas, although they’re not a perfect solution in the short term, should help in the longer term. Young women can be inspired instead of disheartened, when they look ahead in their careers or personal lives and feel that they have a fair chance of achieving their goals.

Jason: This legislation appears to be jumping straight to gender quotas at board level, but surely this needs to start at entry-level. If you are recruiting, training and retaining a gender-equal workforce, then that will filter through to the board-level over time. If the aim is more women on a board, then this is a long term strategy and one that needs a plan that involves every level of the organisation.

How can we #BeBoldForChange in 2017 and beyond? 

Angela: If I could change one thing in relation to careers in Ireland today to #BeBoldForChange, it would be to make parental leave equal between men and women. I’d like to see it available 50/50, so that men can take 3 months and women can take 3 months as they choose. That creates equilibrium across the board.

Jason: It’s also worth considering the fact that, while Realex has generous paid maternity and paternity leave policies, not all maternity leave is paid, it simply guarantees job protection rather than providing additional paid leave benefits. This places a tremendous financial burden on low-income families. I think another way we can #BeBoldForChange is to ensure parents have access to reliable, high-quality childcare. In some Global Payments facilities today we are fortunate enough to have crèches onsite to enable parents to spend more time with their children during their workday.

Gina: As women are starting families later, their earning power is higher and sometimes on par with or even higher than their partners, so this needs to be considered when all parental time off is required. To #BeBoldForChange could move away from one partner taking the majority of  time-off for parental-related issues, and moving towards taking that time off equally.

International Women’s Day (March 8th) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

Pictured L-R: Ciara Donlevy, Financial Controller at Realex Payments; Gina Laverty, Vice President for European Finance, Global Payments; Angela Bergin, Head of Strategic Delivery, Worldwide Ecom, Global Payments and Jason Sharples, Senior Vice President, Application Delivery, Global Payments.