Enterprise Ireland has launched the Action Plan For Women In Business, an ambitious and wide-reaching strategy to achieve greater representation of women in business and, particularly, in business leadership across Ireland. We spoke to Sheelagh Daly at Enterprise Ireland to find out more.
Numerous studies prove that having women in executive positions and on boards leads to better outcomes for organisations – with better financial performance and higher employee engagement. Putting women in decision-making roles improves all kinds of business metrics, but we are still not seeing gender parity in business.
An ongoing commitment to gender balance
Focusing on gender balance in business is not new for Enterprise Ireland. There have been a number of initiatives over the past years aimed at improving the ratio, such as Going For Growth or female-only Competitive Start Fund (CSF) calls. The success of these is evident, with Enterprise Ireland investing in three times more women-led companies in 2019 compared to 2011.
Looking forward, it was clear that as the national agency for economic development, Enterprise Ireland had an important role to play in improving diversity in business. CEO Julie Sinnamon asked the agency to put together a plan.
“Harnessing the full talent and expertise of our diverse population will result in better businesses and faster economic growth. Unleashing the creativity and skills of more women represents an unparalleled opportunity for fuelling economic growth in Ireland.”
Julie Sinnamon – CEO, Enterprise Ireland
The plan has been piloted by Sheelagh Daly, Entrepreneurship Manager at Enterprise Ireland. She spent a year putting together the strategy and identifying the first 24 actions for 2020. She started by asking four key questions about the lack of female participation in enterprise: What are the reasons? What are the barriers? What needs to change? What additional supports are required?
“Women in leadership roles means increased profits, improved productivity, better returns on assets, and overall superior performance. We want companies making smart decisions about the senior management team that will help them be the best they can be.”
Sheelagh Daly – Entrepreneurship Manager, Enterprise Ireland
An evolving plan with multiple themes
Research demonstrates that – in general – women take a different approach to business, so the plan includes a commitment to working on a one-to-one basis with women as well as addressing systemic barriers that women tend to face. An excellent example of concrete action is a new grant for Enterprise Ireland clients that offer part-time leadership roles. While a grant already exists for full-time roles, this new funding reflects the reality that many women ready to take on such responsibilities may need more flexibility.
The scope of the plan is broad and in addition to the horizontal focus across Enterprise Ireland activities, we will see initiatives developed in partnership with other agencies, stakeholders, the private sector, and government departments. Input into policy development is likely to be significant as the plan evolves.
But if you were thinking this strategy is just about startups, think again! Research and development, education, mentoring, investment and venture capital, networking, leadership development, showcasing successful businesswomen, and bringing experienced female leaders back to work are all going to be a feature of the Women in Business plan.
“People with more senior management experience in their industry are more likely to spot opportunities for innovative new businesses, plus the beliefs and skills to go ahead with the idea. These people are also more likely to have the all-important network of connections that will make things happen in the business.”
Sheelagh Daly – Entrepreneurship Manager, Enterprise Ireland
The objectives of the Women in Business plan
In total, the plan comprises four main objectives, each with six associated actions that Enterprise Ireland has committed to starting in 2020.
Objective 1: Increase the number of women-led established companies growing internationally
- Drive the Women in Business action plan in each division of Enterprise Ireland
- Engage with financial institutions to deliver a finance and funding landscape that is accessible and inclusive
- Develop a #GlobalAmbition campaign featuring Women in Business leaders and initiatives
- Offer increased one-to-one engagement to women-led companies to effectively support growth ambitions and expansion into new global markets
- Ensure all Enterprise Ireland programmes and supports are designed to maximise participation by women
- Explore proposals for new finance offers to support scaling for women-led established companies
Objective 2: Increase the number of women in middle and senior management and leadership roles
- Introduce a new grant for Enterprise Ireland-supported companies to facilitate the recruitment of part-time senior managers
- Promote the benefits of diversity to enterprise and provide funding support for diversity planning to Enterprise Ireland-supported companies
- Work with external stakeholders to influence national policies to address identified barriers to women’s participation in enterprise
- Work with key stakeholders to facilitate Irish companies to improve gender diversity on their boards
- Target women managers in Enterprise Ireland-supported companies and within Enterprise Ireland for participation on leadership development programmes
- Promote a focus on diversity in the development of skills and talent for Irish enterprise through the National Skills Fora and within Enterprise Ireland
Objective 3: Increase the number of women becoming entrepreneurs
- Partner with key stakeholders to drive better access to finance and funding for women at all stages on their enterprise journey
- Collaborate with the Local Enterprise Offices to develop and grow female entrepreneurship in every county
- Target more women to become founders, mentors, and investors
- Ensure enterprise and entrepreneurship policy is aligned with the objectives of the Enterprise Ireland Women in Business plan
- Develop, support, and promote a national network of role models to interact with and inspire future entrepreneurs
- Promote a focus on women in business in the actions and funding of Regional Enterprise Plans
Objective 4: Increase the number of women-led start-ups with high growth potential
- Appoint a dedicated team in Enterprise Ireland to develop and drive initiatives directed at female founders
- Issue a series of funding calls targeting women entrepreneurs, and women researchers from third level institutions
- Pilot an initiative to include women leaders/senior managers in project teams spinning out from third level institutions
- Explore the potential to establish a women-focused seed investment group with key finance industry stakeholders
- Roll out national and regional communications campaigns showcasing women entrepreneurs
- Offer increased one-to-one engagement to women-led HPSUs and support female founders through mentoring with experienced entrepreneurs who have scaled their businesses
The Women in Business plan addresses a broad range of factors contributing to the underrepresentation of women in enterprise and will help to initiate sustainable and enduring change in the Irish economy. If you’d like to know more, you can download the action plan brochure, visit the Enterprise Ireland website, or talk to your Enterprise Ireland/Local Enterprise Office advisor.