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Column: If you’d like to work in an industry, don’t be discouraged by negative perceptions

The obstacles preventing women from reaching their full potential in the workplace are being steadily dismantled, writes Mairead Fleming.

Mairead Fleming

REFERRING TO THE number of votes she received in the 2008 presidential nomination race, Hilary Clinton famously said “the glass ceiling now has 18 million holes.”

From my own perspective, I can say with confidence that those holes keep on getting bigger – big enough for ever-increasing numbers of women to climb through and reach the very top of their chosen career.

Sectors such as marketing, PR and my own area, recruitment, have never really suffered from a gender imbalance. Likewise, the IT industry operates a very level playing field when it comes to employing staff at all levels. Finance and accountancy are also seeing more women rise to senior levels. There may not yet be as many female CEOs and senior partners as males in these professions but the trend is definitely encouraging.

But make no mistake, there are still challenges, particularly in traditionally male-dominated sectors. But the obstacles preventing women reaching their full potential in the workplace are being steadily dismantled.

Support needed from both sides

This is a process that requires input from both sides. Women need to be more open to pursuing careers in these sectors, and employers in those areas need to be more open to addressing the issues that continue to hamper female progress.

Some sectors continue to be male-dominated simply because there are not enough suitably qualified female candidates to fill the roles and some because their culture is not conducive to women employees aspiring to senior rank. But we’re increasingly seeing employers taking tangible action to break down those remaining barriers.

For example Engineering Ireland, the professional body for engineering and engineers in Ireland, is taking huge steps at second and third level education level to ensure that they encourage more interest from female students in pursuing a career in engineering, thereby helping ensure a pipeline of female candidates are well equipped for senior roles into the future. Likewise, the legal sector is keenly focused on making changes to its culture to ensure it is attractive to female candidates and employees. In the last 12 months, the top ten legal firms have been looking carefully at their benefits packages, most notably their maternity policies. This is specifically to ensure that they operate in a way which enables them to attract and retain high quality female employees and retain them for the long term.

Maternity leave

All too often in environments that don’t handle maternity leave well, employers miss out on benefiting from the skill, knowledge and experience of female employees and the female employees in turn miss out on achieving their full career potential. The legal profession is just one area working to change that situation. We are also seeing other sectors from finance to manufacturing putting much more focus on ensuring they are equally attractive to both sexes.

Manufacturing and supply chain and logistics are still tough nuts to crack for females but even that tends to be more generated by the availability of suitably qualified female candidates than any real reluctance to employ them.

Which brings me back to my belief that it requires commitment and determination from both sides to truly maximise the career opportunities open to women. Sometimes that famous glass ceiling metaphor does harm as well as good. Recognising it exists is a great incentive for change. However it can also be demotivating and lead women to believe that more opposition and hurdles exist than actually do in terms of them pursuing certain careers.

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More sectors are genuinely open to female candidates

More and more positive changes are happening all the time, and more and more sectors are genuinely open to female candidates with the right qualifications. So my advice is, if you think you’d like to work in a particular area don’t be put off by negative perceptions and third party anecdote. Find out for yourself and you might be pleasantly surprised.

I’ve been encouraged by the changes I’ve seen over the past several years in the attitudes of employers towards employing women at senior level and in the ambition of female candidates who are not prepared to accept a “this far and no further” limit to their ambitions. I think it all bodes well for a future where there are many more holes than glass in that infamous ceiling – enough even to make it shatter completely.

Mairead Fleming is the Managing Director of Brightwater Recruitment.

Read: Lack of finance the biggest barrier to starting new businesses in Ireland, say entrepreneurs

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Mairead Fleming

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