Belfast Telegraph

Why women need mentor to make it to the boardroom: top chief executive

By Jamie Stinson

Finding a mentor in business is a key way for women to address the female imbalance at board room level, a top recruitment firm boss has said.

Alexander Mann Solutions chief executive Rosaleen Blair told the Women in Business conference - which aims to give women the skills to succeed in business - about the importance of having a sponsor to champion any individual successes within the company.

This year's event at Belfast's Hilton Hotel focused on mentoring, with industry experts imparting the experience and advice they have learned through years in business. The 30-minute mentoring sessions focused on sectors such as agri-food, creative industries, local government, manufacturing, and finance.

Roseann Kelly, chief executive of Women in Business, said: "This year's theme of 'leading global ambition' allowed us to engage speakers who are truly ambitious, great leaders and operating at a global level, but more importantly, they are local role models.

"It was important following the success of our international conference last year that we showcase our home grown talent. The message is to everyone, regardless of size, that you are a leader, you should be ambitious and you should look globally for new markets and trends.

"Our speakers touched nerves, challenged ambitions, provoked goals and thoughts, inspired and motivated the delegates, and they left the conference empowered and ready to lead their business with a real sense of global ambition."

Other speakers at the event included Joan Ballantine, professor of accounting at Ulster University Business School, Grainne Kelly, chief executive of Bubblebum Ltd, and Peter Boyle, founder of Argento.

Finance Minister Arlene Foster also spoke at the event, highlighting the key role women have played in Northern Ireland's economic recovery. The former Enterprise Minister said that at the end of 2014, women held 10,000 more jobs than at the start of 2012.

Ms Foster said the role of women in the recovery should not be "underestimated".

"The talent and inspiration women bring to our society continues to help the Northern Ireland economy to develop and grow," she said.

"Over the past decade, there has been a significant rise in the proportion of working age women that have chosen to participate in the labour market, with 50,000 more now in employment and a higher number of females than males in local jobs. Clearly, women are increasingly important in our economy and will continue to be in the years ahead."

Irish-born entrepreneur Rosaleen Blair founded Alexander Mann Solutions in 1996 - it now has a turnover of £617m and employs 2,800 staff across 80 countries.

The firm opened its first Belfast office in February and plans to create 350 new jobs in the city by 2018.

At the Women in Business conference Ms Blair said she would "really encourage women to try and find a sponsor."

"Having a sponsor, or mentor, within the company offers an individual a chance for a worker higher up in the company to champion their successes.

"I actually think to push people into more senior roles sponsorship is very important," Ms Blair said.

"In my experience there are a lot of fantastic women who are just not good at shouting about themselves and actually finding a sponsor for you - someone else to create space at the table for you, someone else who will shout about your successes, someone else who makes sure the things that you are doing are being recognised."

A big part of Alexander Mann Solutions' philosophy involves charity work, and working with the community in which they're based.

Ms Blair said social responsibility is "huge" for businesses and is a big motivator for staff.

"I think you can't underestimate the impact of getting involved in things in the community.

"The difference it makes to the morale in the office, even things like cake sales, bake sales, and people getting involved in running a mile for something.

"It creates phenomenal morale for people in the organisation."

The barriers to entry to setting up a business are lower now, with the advent of social media and easier access to funding, Ms Blair said.

"In terms of becoming an entrepreneur, when I was starting out it really was pen and paper and writing letters. But now with social media, you can be an overnight sensation. The barriers to entry for actually building a business are so much lower today.

"Access to cash and how to fund things - everything is more accessible."

Next week, we take an in-depth look at pensions and the impact for Northern Ireland's over-55s on the new freedoms

Belfast Telegraph