The statistics are stark… In 2015, the World Economic Forum estimated that, at then current rates, gender parity in the workplace would not be achieved until 2133 (ref. 1). This further declined during 2016 with indications being that it will take as much as 169 years for the world to close the economic gap completely (ref. 2). To put this in context, young women born in 2000 will by then be 186 years old by which time, their great-great-great granddaughters may already be in the workforce…
Multiple studies have highlighted the significant financial benefits associated with a strong female presence in the workforce and in particular, with having diverse management teams. According to McKinsey studies, diverse management teams outperform the industry average by as much as 10% return on equity, 48% earnings before interest and tax and can achieve as much as 1.7 times the average stock price growth (ref. 3). And not alone that, but innovation is known to spike where the male/female split is closer to 50/50. Yet with such compelling financial benefits, why then is this so slow to change?
Donal Sullivan, site manager and vice president at Johnson Controls, headquartered in Cork, is perplexed as to why the global rate of change is so slow. “We wouldn’t wait 169 years to implement any other business imperative offering so much both financially and socially, so why are we waiting for this one?” Leading a local organization that bucks the industry trend with well over 40% women on the Cork team (extending to almost 50% within Technical Communications), Donal sees first-hand the benefits of a diverse and nuanced workforce. “As an organisation focused on innovation and technology, with smart buildings and smart cities as the key tenets of our future vision, invention and creativity is paramount. We know that innovation spikes where there is balance across our male and female workforce and we see the positive outcomes of that every day in our R&D, Tech Comms and IT organizations as well as in our wider business functions. Brainstorming, collaboration and teamwork mark the dynamic of our organization and I think our female workforce has a huge part to play in that regard”. Tracy O’Mahony, HR manager for Johnson Controls Ireland, meanwhile believes that it makes strong business sense to have a balanced workforce highlighting the rounded perspective and balanced vision that a gender diverse workforce can bring. Having the right mix of male and female can ensure a nuanced and balanced approach to decision-making, providing a perspective and empathy that might otherwise be lost if it were all male or all female while conflict can also be better managed by ensuring the right mix.
Johnson Controls, a global technology and industrial leader in building solutions serving customers in more than 150 countries, recognises that truly supporting diversity in the workplace stems from persistence, strong executive support and on-going change programs. Globally, it has a business resource group dedicated to driving a culture of inclusion to achieve its vision of becoming the best place to work while locally, the Cork-based chapter of its Women’s Network is highly active across a series of initiatives, both internal and external, focused on workforce collaboration and on the on-going professional development of staff to achieve its vision of exceptional business performance.
Asked why we see such strong diversity statistics here in Cork, Donal and Tracey know that the organisation is out of the ordinary. Tracey notes that “we’re ahead of the industry trends and even the education trends at the moment would say that we shouldn’t be at the percentages that we are at” but both Donal and Tracey trace this back to a number of factors including the calibre of candidates here in Cork, at both graduate and experienced hire level, and also to the relentless focus on, and advocacy for, the on-going professional development of the female workforce. They feel that this focus and energy attracts some of the best female talent from both home and abroad.
This has a ripple effect – strong local support of the female workforce aids in increasing local employee satisfaction which then extends out to their professional and personal networks. This, in turn, further aids in attracting and recruiting the best talent. According to Tracey, “when you reach out to someone and hire them, they then see the culture of the site and recognise how important diversity is to us… well, that then reaches out to their network as well”. Strong local policies regarding parental leave (both maternity and paternity) are also regarded as key in attracting strong, local talent. Tracy also highlights that while the local management team are very aware of the benefits of a balanced gender workforce, they are delighted with the calibre of female candidates that come to the door which allows them to hire only the best.
However, as Donal notes, “we have to continue to foster and enhance this pool of talent which is why the IWish initiative is so key. We see initiatives like IWish as absolutely fundamental to encouraging our bright young women to fulfil their potential and to pursue future careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. The possibilities and opportunities open to you are endless. To give you a flavour of the type of work available from careers in STEM, we have female staff working in analytics and AI automation, in R&D relating to our smart building technologies, our life-saving fire equipment, our retail solutions protecting businesses globally as well as in communicating technologies to our customers. Not alone this but we also have STEM graduates working in business or legal functions where their STEM knowledge is used in their everyday work. So, having a career in technology doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have an A in honours maths or be a hard core coder – of course, we do need people with those abilities too – but technology careers can span a whole spectrum of talents, anything from technical writers, graphic artists, designers, project managers to researchers and product developers. So there really are so many ways to get involved.” Tracey encourages anyone who might have an interest in STEM at transition year level to reach out and call – “if you ever want the opportunity to come and visit us here at Johnson Controls Cork and see the innovative work that our teams are doing across R&D, engineering, IT and other areas, please do reach out to us and we will look into arranging work experience for you”.
Asked what advice they would give to their own daughters regarding their subject choices in school at senior cycle, Tracey suggests that people should remain open to options that would not be in their comfort zone. She sees her own daughter pursuing metal work and technical graphics in junior cycle and is amazed by the change in perspective that has come with this. It has opened her daughter’s eyes to an array of opportunities that she had not realised existed. She continually looks for practical applications of lessons learned in science and looks to “make it real” for herself. So Tracey’s advice? “Make science and maths real for yourself. Look for the practical applications. The opportunities are there. Be brave and pursue the chances”.
Donal meanwhile wants the very best for his own daughter’s future. “I don’t want to wait until her great-great-great granddaughters are in the workforce for them to have the same opportunities as I had. Be relentless. Take advantage of events like IWish to see if the future opportunities in the area interest you and if they do, then keep the doors open for yourself and choose STEM. And we look forward to hearing from you at graduate level here in Johnson Controls.”