Belfast Telegraph

Women at the helm in three of Northern Ireland's best performing companies

By Margaret Canning

Women in Northern Ireland appear to be breaking the glass ceiling with three of the leading five firms in today's Belfast Telegraph Top 100 led by females.

The eagerly-awaited run-down of our top profit-making companies is published today - and women are making their mark in the upper reaches of the list.

>>The Belfast Telegraph Top 100 is available with today's paper<<

Sara Venning heads up number two company NI Water; Carla Tully leads number four firm AES, which owns the Kilroot and Ballylumford power stations, while Janet McCollum is chief executive of number five firm, poultry giant Moy Park.

But there are just three other female leaders among the rest of the chart - Elaine Birchall of food and drink company SHS Group; Darina Armstrong of Progressive Building Society, and Margaret Heffernan, who heads up supermarket chain Dunnes.

Richard Kirk, head of the Institution of Civil Engineers in Northern Ireland, said the fact that two women were leading Northern Ireland's biggest utility firms demonstrated that engineering was becoming a more attractive profession for women.

"It is fantastic to see recognition of these women's achievements in engineering - they are the outstanding leaders we need to inspire the next generation.

"The UK still has one of the lowest ratios of female-to-male engineers in Europe, and more than half of surveyed girls said they were put off by science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers due to lack of female role models. Not only are these women contributing to their professions and companies, but they are showing young girls the many opportunities available to them in engineering.

"It is a growing sector which will need to attract young women in order to meet future demand and deliver better outcomes for society."

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also welcomed the growing female presence.

"A few years ago there were very few female leaders amongst our top firms and it is fantastic to see three in the top five of this year's Top 100.

"It shows clearly that having a female CEO is no impediment to the success of a company. They are an inspiration to a future generation of young female business leaders."

But Roseann Kelly, the head of Women in Business, said the presence of just six female leaders in the overall Top 100 was inadequate and reflected a wider failing.

"This is not a result of men stopping women from taking positions of leaderships. Rather, it's a reflection of the continuing reluctance of big society, of men and women, to accept that a greater contribution by women will inject new vigour and success into our economy," she said.

Belfast Telegraph