Belfast Telegraph

'Companies must treat gender balance as a core issue'

By Margaret Canning and John Mulgrew

Helen Kirkpatrick is thought to have more board appointments under her belt than any woman in business in Northern Ireland.

The Co Antrim woman is a board member at UTV Media plc and the company's former interim chairman, as well as sitting on the boards of Kingspan and United Dairy Farmers.

Ms Kirkpatrick, who worked in the corporate finance department of Invest NI, was the first female to be appointed to the board of Kingspan, the building materials firm based in Cavan.

She was also a director of the Enterprise Equity Venture Capital Group, and a non-executive director of NI-CO (Northern Ireland Public Sector Enterprises). In 2013 she was named the UK's non-executive director of the year by the Institute of Directors.

Ms Kirkpatrick trained at Deloitte Haskins & Sells, qualified as an accountant in 1985 and had her first board appointment in 2000, to the International Fund for Ireland.

"I would say that at that time, it took me longer than it would have a man, though that could be just a generational thing," she said.

"To my mind, we are just in a better world now. Women are in the pool to be considered and are there on merit because of their skills and experience."

Women were successfully balancing home and corporate life, she said.

"I am single though of course I have certain responsibilities like everyone else."

Julie McClean, a senior manager with business advisers PwC, has researched the barriers facing women in the workplace.

She said while the progress so far was "great to see" there remained a "long way to go".

"It's moving away from just the boardroom level, to look at middle management and senior management - it's about developing the pipeline. I think businesses need to treat gender balance as a core business issue. It's no longer just 'the right thing to do'."

Nearly 80% of those surveyed in her research - most of whom were women - felt they had the confidence to lead a team. "It also showed what the barriers are, and painted a picture of what is holding women back in the workforce."

Belfast Telegraph