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Women in business champion

Hilary Gormley

Hilary Gormley round.pngHilary Gormley, head of commercial banking at AIB, believes female leaders have a responsibility to stand up and be counted – and to keep gender equality in the conversation.


Do you think that progress is being made towards gender diversity?

There has been a marked change over the last number of years with women in financial services. The infrastructure is being built, and is there in some cases, but it is not enough. Percentages are still not good at the top. There need to be behaviour changes to support processes and procedures. Targets not quotas may be the answer.

There is a responsibility among senior women – to be a role model, support and promote other females through their career journey. And also to ensure it stays on the agenda.

In the financial sector, what benefits do you see from having teams with more gender diversity?

Diversity of thought – people think differently, not necessarily better, just different. In the main, women are more measured – and can take the tempo down with a more balanced thought process, while thinking of the wider implications and readiness.

Diversity brings with it a wider perspective on impact and a long-term outlook, on people, customers and culture.

A majority of women doesn’t work either – the team needs to be balanced – and this brings with it balanced listening and a balanced response.

Within your industry, do you see a bias towards women being recruited for their proven ability, and men being recruited on their potential?

It is real, and it is an unconscious bias – not organisational.

Bias is sometimes down to the women themselves – ruling themselves out of opportunities. The conversation and narrative around specific roles needs to be adapted for the audience – in order to encourage women to apply for senior positions. The confidence thresholds are different, and genders think of qualifications and potential differently.

Performance conversations often use subtly different language – women are more open to conversation on points that need development.

In banking, women tend to get the higher roles that are business partner or back office support roles, not the front line. It still seems to be men ‘doing the business’.

This could be changed with better ways of networking – both within gender and across genders.

How can routes to career development and advancement be opened up to more women?

Different conversations would assist in women’s development, conversations about opportunities and succession planning. More women’s learning and development opportunities, and women’s forums, would also help.

Women need to be reaching out and looking for ‘sponsors’ especially in large organisations. Mentors and coaches are good – but sponsors are necessary to help you build your own personal brand, to ensure you are getting noticed and recognised for the work you do and value you add.

Women (in general) are not good at self-promotion – they do good work and expect it to be noticed. Having a good sponsor, who will promote you, is key. Build your personal brand – and stand up to be counted. Men also need to understand these nuanced conversations.

What types of flexible working practices enable talent retention, specifically female talent?

The avenues and infrastructure for flexible working are all built or being built, and we have come a long way. We need to continue to encourage and embed the behaviours to support these changes, for example, a four day week, means a four day week – and expected outputs and KPIs must reflect that.

The obvious options are flexible hours, the ability to work from home, and the ability to work on the go. Opportunities for flexibility across genders should be the norm and not the exception. But a four-day week should mean a four-day week – rather than expecting the same output in less hours. There is a still a way to go – the avenues are there but the avenues and behaviours need to match.

In your organisation, what does an inclusive business culture look like?

We have an initiative where we have a group of D&I ‘families’, all sponsored by people at a senior level. We will have a week of activity running for International Women’s Day. D&I is a constant part of our agenda under our ‘Talent and Culture’ Pillar. This includes D&I, Wellness, Mental Healthy, LGBT. These different initiatives strive to make awareness part of the normal conversation – and ultimately become part of our DNA.

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