31 Northern Irish companies commit to ensuring women get a chance at the top
Over 30 companies in Northern Ireland have signed up to an initiative aimed at getting women to the helm of 30% of Northern Ireland's top companies by 2017.
Just five of our top 100 firms are led by females, including poll-topper Moy Park, run by managing director Janet McCollum.
Women in Business has challenged companies to sign up to its 30/30 Vision and at the opening day of the International Business Women's conference, the organisation announced that 31 companies have already come on board in just 30 days.
Among the companies which have shown their support are business advisors PricewaterhouseCoopers, defence firm Thales, bus builder Wrightbus, planemaker Bombardier Aerospace, tyre firm Michelin, truck manufacturer SDC Trailers Ltd and Tayto as well as all four banks in Northern Ireland.
Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland is headed up by Ellvena Graham, who was one of the speakers at the event.
In a panel discussion, she gave an insight into some of the challenges she had faced in business.
She said she had faced difficulties in trying to re-invent the reputation of the Ulster Bank and reconnect with customers following the global banking crisis and a series of IT glitches which have plagued Ulster and its parent company Royal Bank of Scotland.
"It used to be politicians and the church who were unpopular, but now it is the turn of the banks," she said.
I have faced grillings at Westminster, at Stormont and Oireachtas but it's the little things that make a difference.
"Workers from a local branch supporting a charity helps the bank connect with communities much more than the big statements."
She added that the bank's strong focus on support for the agri-food and agri-business sectors was also helping repair the damage.
Roseann Kelly, chief executive at Women in Business said that a balanced workforce can result in more innovative, competitive and successful companies.
Evelyn Collins, chief executive of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, pointed to the Women's Business Council 2013 report, which said that equalising men and women's participation rates could add more than 10% to the size of the UK economy by 2030.
She said that while women now account for 20.7% of board positions in the FTSE100, up from 12.5% in 2011, the situation in Northern Ireland is "disappointing".
"In the words of the Women's Business Council report – "while women need work, work also needs women." she said.
"We must continue to challenge outdated, stereotypical notions about what is "women's work" or "men's work". Employers need to become more confident about taking positive actions, adopting family-friendly policies such as flexible working."