Ciara Smyth, a strategic human capital consultant, returned to Ireland in 2016 after 20 years in the US and UK. And she remembers a middle-aged white male client with his own technology company and two women on the board who organized a team building exercise at the time. “It was a golf outing!” she sighs. “I thought, ‘Are we in 1981?'”
Today, among her clients, a female tech executive is openly blocking time in the company calendar for the school run. In the past, ambitious Irish mothers had to avoid such activities in order to get ahead.
Today, however, diversity, equality and inclusion are key features of corporate life in a country that has changed socially beyond recognition in less than a decade. Take the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 and abortion in 2018 as evidence.
Meanwhile, Leo Varadkar – gay and of Indian descent – is about to begin his second term as prime minister.
The tech sector in Ireland – European home of giants Google, Meta and Amazon – has helped import a diverse mindset that has enriched corporate life, just as booming tech taxes have swelled government coffers.
“The technology industry has always been an early adopter,” said Daniel Corcoran, global strategy and operations vice president of online recruitment firm Indeed. “Many in Ireland see technology companies as attractive employers. . . Other industries want to emulate that.”
Disability activist Sinéad Burke, who founded Tilting the Lens, an accessibility and inclusion consultancy that works with companies from technology to luxury fashion, says there are advances to learn from.
“Ireland is often a wonderful case study to bring in initiatives. . . and then see how you can scale them measurably.”
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The number of women in technical leadership positions is a metric. According to recruitment and services firm Nash Squared’s 2022 Digital Leadership Report, 18 per cent of technology leaders in Ireland are women, up from 12.5 per cent last year and up from 14 per cent globally.
“Ireland scores well above its weight when it comes to female talent in the tech sector,” said Stafford Bagot, partner at headhunter Heidrick & Struggles.
18 percent of the country’s technology leaders are women, up from 14 percent globally © AFP via Getty Images
Tech teams in Ireland are 27 percent female, versus 23 percent globally. “There has been a conscious effort to shift the scale,” says Bev White, chief executive of Nash Squared, who notes that 28 per cent of newly hired tech workers in Ireland are women, the same as globally.
In 2015, Frontline Ventures, a fund specializing in business-to-business financing for early-stage entrepreneurs, began tracking how many of the tech companies it invested in were founded by women. Back then, only 6 percent of the portfolio had female founders. It’s on track to top 30 percent this year, says William McQuillan, founder and partner at Frontline Ventures.
Tech ventures with non-white founders make up 15 percent of its portfolio — up from 10 percent in 2018 — well above the national average in a country where just 8 percent of the population is non-white, according to the latest official data.
Karen Church, vice president of research and data science at Irish-based software company Intercom, was amazed to find that the diverse groups she liked at university had evaporated after completing her PhD. “It wasn’t until I left that I realized, ‘where did they all go’?”
That’s why Church founded Her+Data in 2017, a community for women who are or aspire to be in data, science and programming. She had come home after years of working in California to find that such fields were still very male-dominated in Ireland and wanted a way for women to meet and mentor one another like she had seen in the US. “It has allowed more women or people aspiring to data roles to network and see role models,” she says. “In the beginning we had ten, now we have almost 1,000 members.”
Some challenges are gaining much-needed attention, notes Áine Maher, a mental wellbeing, diversity and inclusion consultant who works with technology clients. “Recently, neurodiverse inclusion has really taken off,” she says, referring to the realization that people interact with the world around them in different ways due to variations in brain and cognition.
Focusing on inclusion, where people feel accepted without having to conform, is the way to keep employees — especially younger generations — happy and engaged, she adds.
“Diversity drives recruitment. But inclusion is what’s really driving employee retention in the war on talent as Gen Z employees bounce between companies.”