Business

Men the 'Catalyst' for helping more women into the boardroom

Sandra Ondraschek-Norris, director for Catalyst Europe
Gail Bell

THE mythical 'glass ceiling' is not a myth and is still hovering insidiously above boardrooms across Ireland, director of Catalyst Europe, Sandra Ondraschek-Norris, warned during a fleeting visit to Belfast recently.

The Donegal native, now living in Zurich, was visiting family ahead of an 'Engaging Men' event in Dublin - but, notably, had no business engagements with men in the north.

This was not, she added pointedly, due to companies here already being ahead of the game in gender equality issues, but more to do with the global nature of the 800-odd companies worldwide which have partnered with the leading research organisation.

Ondraschek-Norris is well used to deflecting myths and stereotypes around gender and was happy to recount a "familiar little rant" from a cab driver who had just driven her into Belfast city centre complaining about "women drivers who never let you in".

"I don't know what it is, but people seem to detect the gender topic before I even tell them what I do for a living," she said, bemused.

"It is something I can't seem to switch off, but whether is is in front of a boardroom or in a cab, I like to argue my point."

Although describing herself as a feminist in its purest form ("before the word was hijacked") she regards the title 'egalitarian' more correctly befitting her role with Catalyst which works with corporations worldwide to advance women - "and other marginalised groups" - into leadership roles.

The fact there is still a need to do this in 2015 is clearly a source of exasperation for her but she believes the Catalyst strategy of 'Engaging Men' is a game-changer and the on-trend topic with companies able to make a difference.

"Engaging Men in Diversity and Inclusion is a hot topic," she said, "and we have been very encouraged by the level of interest shown. I am a panellist at an upcoming event in Dublin which is discussing the very issue as it is something more on the radar now in Ireland.

"It makes sense that women will only be able to advance properly in the workplace if men are fully on board."

With Catalyst's first global census on women in boards (launched in January this year) showing Ireland having just over 10 per cent female members (compared to Norway with 35 per cent) under-representation around the board table is something she is keen to tackle.

"For too long the question has been centred around the woman - what she should or shouldn't be doing to get ahead," she added. "Now the focus of the question has turned to the organisation itself and what it is doing to drive change.

"The challenge in the future will be ensuring that talent in the pipeline, wherever it comes from - women, trans-gender or ethnic groups - is not ignored but nurtured and sustained.

"We urge more companies to take on this challenge. It is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for business."

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