By improving gender diversity, firms can transform the world
International Day of the Girl, celebrated earlier this month, highlighted that a staggering 98 million adolescent girls around the world are not in the education system. There was a rally of support globally from celebrities who used their voice to highlight this issue.
They all recognised that, when girls receive an education, amazing things start to happen. Poverty goes down. Economies grow. Families get stronger. Babies are born healthier. And the world, by all accounts, gets better.
Undoubtedly, education unleashes a young person's potential, nurtures their imagination and is fundamental in opening an endless world of opportunities for future career prospects.
Businesswomen know better than anyone that children are our future, and a great economy will come from an education system that values the potential of each and every child.
Our children's education needs to include and recognise the importance of values, ethics, attitudes, teamwork and problem-solving, and as business leaders our continued commitment to these principles will guide us to achieving success.
Indeed, in order to produce the skilled, dedicated and talented employees and entrepreneurs that our future economy needs, we need long-term investment in our education system.
This is impossible without a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland, and this lack of leadership is really letting our children down and having a potential detrimental impact on the future economy.
Currently women remain under-represented in higher positions of power within the workplace, and I was disappointed and ashamed to learn that only two of Northern Ireland's top CEOs are female.
I really can't see how we address this issue if our leaders do not regroup for the wider good and if businesses do not step up and support women to achieve their full potential.
It is no secret that gender-diverse workforces are good for business - a 2015 McKinsey report found a correlation between gender-diverse companies and better bottom line results. In fact, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective industry medians.
The Northern Ireland Gender Diversity Charter Mark, which was launched last year, commits businesses to support the progression of women. The charter has achieved support from some of Northern Ireland's leading businesses at a senior level, which have recognised that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all employees and at all levels of the organisation - in particular, from CEOs and those in senior roles.
Too many organisations are missing the mark on gender equality efforts by focusing gender initiatives solely on changing women.
These individualistic approaches to solving gender inequities overlook systematic structural causes and reinforce the perception that these are women's issues, effectively telling men they don't need to be involved.
At Women in Business, we want men to join the conversation and have a seat at our table. Without the avid support of men, significant progress toward ending gender disparities is unlikely.
We strive to include men as we strive for gender equality. For example, our awards are taking place on November 8 and this is not an exclusive event for females. We urge men to join the debate and be part of celebrating all of the amazing women that are part of our business network.
As the chief executive of one of Northern Ireland's most powerful business networks, I am calling on our leaders to respect the power they wield and prioritise our children's educational needs - it is through them that we can change behaviour and achieve a truly diverse workforce.
Businesses must also step up to the plate - not only is a gender diversity good for business, it is the right thing to do.