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Sharon Donnery: 'There were no female role models, no one I could aspire to be like'

Tools like targets or quotas are not about artificially levelling the playing field – they are to ensure access to the field in the first place, writes Sharon Donnery.

Sharon Donnery Central Bank

WHEN I JOINED the Central Bank of Ireland in 1996, there were no women on the senior management team.

The effects, although subtle, definitely affected me  – and I know it affects many women in many organisations – in that there were no female role models, no one I could aspire to be like. All that changed, when in 2001, a woman was appointed as the first female Head of Division in the Central Bank.

So, looking back, one influential aspect was having people at senior levels to whom I could relate, and who I could see as role models. That made a difference in my career.

Therefore, in my opinion, it is important that we create an environment where diversity is valued at all levels of the organisation – including at the very top.

Solid progress

Since that first senior appointment in 2001, solid progress has been made in promoting diversity at the top of the Central Bank. Our own diversity policy recognises that we need staff with diverse experiences and from diverse backgrounds and who bring different styles of thinking.

The Commission (the governing board of the Central Bank of Ireland) has three females out of ten members. We also have a much more diverse management mix within the Central Bank of Ireland now – 39% of directors are women, as are 49% of our division heads. And we have a range of policies which aim to sustain and increase the pace of this progress.

Last week, we published our first gender pay gap analysis at the Central Bank of Ireland. Our report shows that, with 50% female and 50% male staff, we have good gender parity across the organisation.

There are some differences in gender profiles across different grades. Consequently, there is an overall difference of 2.7% between the average pay for males and females across the Bank. While our gap is less than other organisations there is room for continued improvement.

Wider focus

Within the Central Bank of Ireland, our focus is wider than on our employees alone. It’s on our prospective employees – trying to ensure we attract candidates to our organisation from a highly competitive pool of diverse talent. For me, a very important aspect of our diversity efforts is that they do not rest with our Human Resources directorate alone. Diversity management starts from the top down.

That raises an important issue, and key element of the debate – how important is diversity in deciding who that competent person should be and, is there a stronger argument to make for ensuring gender diversity at senior management levels? Research shows gender diversity can affect the process and quality of decision-making. It can guard against groupthink by bringing a heterogeneity of values, beliefs, and attitudes.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have believed in gender targets or quotas, but I now see them as a necessary part of the picture. Tools like targets or quotas are not about artificially levelling the playing field – they are to ensure access to the field in the first place.

However, no one single law, policy or even manager will ensure diversity in the workplace or equality of opportunity for leadership positions, let alone equality of outcome.

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And given the importance of what we do, diversity for diversity’s sake has limitations. Anybody who is promoted to a leadership position has got to be capable of leadership.

It’s not yet a decade since the global financial crisis. And across much of the European Union, the effects of it are still being unwound. And so, to try to prevent a repeat, we need competent people leading central banks and in the financial sector alike.

I take a firm view that those in management positions should first and foremost be there because of merit, ability and track record. The institutions we work for, and indeed the public interest, demand no less.

Sharon Donnery is Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland.

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About the author:

Sharon Donnery  / Central Bank

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