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Accenture International Women's Day 2019

  • 12 March 2019

Change happens over time, not because of time. Progress only happens through actions.

Accenture's International Women's Day event this year was the 15th one in Ireland, and the biggest of all the Accenture IWD events globally, jam-packed with great speakers and thought-provoking information. Dr Michelle Cullen, Managing Director and Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Accenture, kicked off by telling us that in Accenture's first year in Ireland, 1970, women finally qualified for jury service on the same terms as men, and lending discrimination on the basis of sex ended. Change has happened. It happens over time, not because of time. Progress only happens through actions. She also launched the latest Accenture research on gender equality and innovation which found that the innovation mindset is at least 6 times higher in the most equal cultures than in the least equal ones.

#WITSIWD2019 virtual coffee morning

"Hate quotas, love their effect."

Dearbhail McDonald, Group Business Editor, INM, chaired the first panel about moments of change. Brid Horan, co-chair of Better Balance for Better Business, credited feminist journalism, and the influence of the EU (both the legal changes and the economic development it brought) in changing women's lives in Ireland. Despite huge strides, Ireland is still behind the EU average when it comes to women's participation in the workforce. Pat O'Doherty, Chief Executive of the ESB, harked back to his own days studying engineering when there were 9 women out of 200 students in first year, but at the time he just accepted this as normal. Now as CEO, he can use his influence to improve diversity by letting people know that it matters to him. When it comes to effecting change, women can be role models but men can change the culture. Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, used the example of a proposal to arrange a meeting for 8 am. As the most senior person in the room, he was able to say he couldn't make that time, when some of the more junior people in the room didn't feel able to say that they had to do the school run. If you have the authority, you can use it to help others who don't. The old chestnut of targets vs quotas also came up. The panel agreed that targets are useful to focus attention, especially in nominations or applications. Quotas are also proven to work even if people find them uncomfortable. As Dearbhail McDonald put it, "Hate quotas, love their effect."

Gender equality also means men moving into female-dominated roles, and Margaret O'Doherty, primary school teacher and daughter of Pat, highlighted the need for more men in primary teaching. When she left university with her engineering degree, Katie Mullan, captain of the Irish hockey team, brought with her an "equality mindset" into the workplace. We need to make sure millenials keep that mindset and don't get disillusioned and drop out.

"If we want to innovate in our future, we need to celebrate our past."

A year of the Irish Times' Women's Podcast was summarised by Róisín Ingle from #MeToo to Repealing the 8th in "Ah, hear!", followed by Kathy Sheridan moderating a discussion for the podcast on women in coding and AI (where the gender of AI assistants seems to be always female, so even in the AI world, "women serve and men give the orders"). The great Brenda Romero, BAFTA award-winning game designer, told us "if we want to innovate in our future, we need to celebrate our past." So she recalled the innovators:

  • Margaret Hamilton who wrote the code for the Apollo 11 on-board flight software
  • Kathleen Booth who invented assembly language
  • Grace Hopper who developed compilers and the COBOL programming language.
  • Sr Mary Kenneth Keller co-developed the BASIC programming language
  • Kay McNulty from Donegal was one of the original ENIAC team working on one of the first general purpose digital computers.

Gaming is for girls - marginally more women than men in the US own games consoles, and adult women represent nearly twice as many video gamers as boys under 18. Coding is for girls - women's code is consistently rated better in the Github open source development platform than men's - unless the coder's gender is known.

Listen to the podcast for the full discussion but some interesting snippets on AI:

  • In Finland, a company has the first AI board member.
  • 90% of online data was produced in the last 2 years
  • AI has the potential to eliminate bias with the right data and the right algorithms - or to perpetuate stereotypes and bias with the wrong ones.

The 8 portraits for the Accenture and RCSI Women on Walls campaign launched earlier in the week and at this event now hang in the RCSI boardroom, and you can see them first-hand in March by booking here.

Finally Frances Fitzgerald TD wrapped up the event by reminding us that while we can celebrate progress we should highlight the work to do especially in applying an international lens to equality. She advised women in work to own their own ambition, and women returning to work to recover their ambition. Women can work to help others, men can be allies for equality, and all of us can call out everyday sexism.