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Speech by An Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald at the 11th Annual Women Mean Business Conference & Awards

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m honoured to address you at this morning's Women Mean Business Conference and Awards and I would like to thank Rosemary Delaney for the invitation.Rosemary currently sits on the Board of InterTrade Ireland, an agency co-funded by my Department to promote cross border trade, something that is particularly important in the context of Brexit and I would like to thank her for her ongoing service.

I’m humbled to be regarded as a female leader – even a feminist. But then my career is an exception, not the norm. Being a female minister - and Tánaiste - is still seen as a novelty.

The same applies to female leaders in business and virtually every strand of society. A novelty and certainly not the norm. Since the foundation of this State, women have been invisible and we’re only now starting to step out of the shadows.

Rosemary tells me that she launched WMB out of a desire to see more businesswomen profiled through the media so that other women would be inspired to emulate their success.

Rosemary, and her staff, are to be commended on that goal. Visibility is crucial to engendering more female leaders and each of us here today must make it our business to assist other women through their careers, provide mentorship and a helping hand.

The Women Mean Business Conference and Awards has now been doing exactly that for 11 years and this year’s theme is "Walk the Talk".

Last year to celebrate their 10th anniversary, Women Mean Business launched their Gender Diversity Ambassador Initiative. The ambassadors, many of whom are here today, do just that, as they "walk the talk" in their daily business lives and as role models and mentors to others.

Equally, the women shortlisted for the awards today ‘Walk the Talk’. They are at different stages of their journeys from early stage start-ups to experienced entrepreneurs with established businesses. I wish each of you the best of luck in today's awards and continued success in the future.

Barriers to women excelling in business, or indeed in voluntary or political roles, are often practical ones. In politics, the inhibitors have been succinctly summarised as the 5 Cs – cash, confidence, childcare, culture and candidate selection procedures. The first four are equally applicable in a business context.

I received a major boost in my early career when I was the voluntary Chairperson of the National Women’s Council. The Mater Hospital, where I was a social worker, agreed to give me a job-sharing position.

That helped me overcome that barrier of managing to combine work and family life.

It sounds simple, but it was the gateway to me continuing my career, to getting involved in politics and ultimately to getting to where I am today

Some say the big obstacles to women’s progress are gone...that we don’t need a new Women’s Strategy. I disagree. I say women’s equality is a work in progress, not a completed task.

That’s why, as Minister for Justice & Equality in May of this year, I launched a four-year National Strategy for Women and Girls. Taking the mantra “if you can see it, you can be it”, the new Strategy aims to shine a light on equal roles for women and girls in all aspects of society - in the domestic and family sphere; in their communities; in education; in working life; in Ireland’s cultural and sporting sectors; as pioneers in business, in academic life, in the sciences; and as leaders.

In line with the National Strategy on Women and Girls, Minister Flanagan and I launched a public consultation on tackling the gender pay gap in August. The consultation period closes this Wednesday 4th October, so if you have not already done so, I would encourage everyone here to participate by suggesting actions that might be taken and how you could help to implement those actions.

I want us to drive a whole of government response addressing all aspects of the gender pay agenda, including female entrepreneurship, childcare, skills development and the uptake of STEM subjects.

As we reach full employment, my Department’s Action Plan for Jobs must increasingly focus on ways to increase labour market participation – particularly female participation. We need to ensure that the skills gaps in the economy are met by capturing the full potential which increased female participation offers.

Part of that drive must involve proper childcare provision.

As of early September, two new supports have come into effect:

  • A universal subsidy for all children between 6 and 36 months, worth up to €1,040 per year and;
  • A targeted subsidy for the families who most require it, which is worth up to €7,500 per year.

We must and we will do more.

The Government’s intention is to incrementally increase investment in childcare over the coming budgets as finances allow.

I need not tell the people sitting in this room that female representation on corporate boards remains much too low at 16%. Clearly it’s not enough to get one or two women into leadership positions.

Women simply have to be part of the decision-making process – be it in business, politics or the voluntary sector. We know that better decisions are made when decision-makers are diverse. We are told endlessly of the dangers of group-think. Decision-making is taking place in increasingly complex environments. And customers are becoming increasingly complex, more diverse and more demanding. Decision-making must reflect that.

It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s good for business.

As part of the Strategy on Women and Girls the Government is going “to Commission an independent review of the situation of women in the governance and senior management of companies in Ireland and of measures to promote and to increase women’s representation, such as targets for women.”

This review will be similar to that undertaken by Lord Davies in the UK and I know that officials from the Department of Justice & Equality were in London recently to discuss these proposals and learn from their experience.

As Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation, I will be working to ensure that women in business become leaders in business. It will require a strong collective effort bring female entrepreneurship in line with the rates of male entrepreneurship.

The most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor showed that while Ireland’s rate of entrepreneurship among women is the 7th highest in Europe, men are twice as likely to be entrepreneurs as women.

But we are making progress. The vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ireland has seen the number of new female-only companies or start-ups increase from 416 in the 12 months up to Q1 2015 to 701 during the equivalent period in 2017. This is a 68% increase.

Enterprise Ireland has a key role. Its dedicated Unit is evidence that it sees this as a real issue and something that needs solving.

Through its work, Enterprise Ireland has seen a huge increase in the number of women participating in the Competitive Start Funds [CSF] and the High Potential Start Ups [HPSU] programmes since its introduction of a female only Fund in 2013.

2012 saw Enterprise Ireland supporting 16 start ups led by women.

2016 saw 63 start ups - and we want that figure to grow considerably over the coming years.

Our new network of Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) also have a focus on female-led businesses and run a number of Women in Business Networks along with National Women’s Enterprise Day. Under the Action Plan for Jobs, this year’s National Women’s Enterprise Day will be rolled out on a regional basis. Events will be taking place throughout the country on 12th October and I would encourage you all to participate in the event organised by your own Local Enterprise Office.

I believe being a successful woman is defined by doing what you want to do when you want to do it. By living up to your potential. By helping other women live up to theirs. It’s about being daunted by the impossible and doing it anyway.

If Ireland is to sustain our economic recovery and avoid the pitfalls of the past, we need more women around the table.

As Michelle Obama once put it, "No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens."

Finally, I’d like to wish the very best of luck to all the women who have been shortlisted for awards later today. Today is about you - and recognising the best female talent in Irish business.

Thank you.

ENDS

For further information contact Press Office, Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation ph. 6312200 or press.office@dbei.gov.ie

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