The HSE joined the ranks of those celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, 2017 with an action-packed and engaging day on the theme of ‘Taking up the Leadership Challenge,’ writes Siobhan Patten, HSE National HR Lead: Diversity, Equality and Inclusion.
Minister for Health, Simon Harris joined women leaders in the HSE, and supporters of women in leadership, to voice his high regard and to thank all the attendees for the valuable roles they played.
In Minister Harris’ address, he acknowledged the major contribution of women to the delivery of health and social care services in Ireland. He noted that with a workforce that was 79% female, the contribution of women was substantial.
Interest in the event in the lead up to IWD had been very strong with over 275 people expressing interest in attending. Due to the numbers limitations of the venue, the history-rich Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, this had to be reduced to 175, and invitees were balanced between levels of women in leadership, geographical locations, and representation from staff groups of nursing, medical and dental, administration, support services and health and social care professionals. This meant that that the audience was truly representative of the workforce of the HSE. It was notable that a number of male supporters of Women in Leadership were in attendance, to participate and demonstrate their commitment to progressive practices.
The Minister noted that with a workforce that was 79% female, the contribution of women was substantial.
The morning session was opened by the Director General of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, who noted that the HSE has come a distance in employing women at senior level, and who also paid tribute to the women leaders.
He was followed by Rosarii Mannion, National Director of HR, who spoke about the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
I presented on the organisational data contributing to the current picture and offered some thoughts on tackling unconscious bias and on supportive leadership practices. In short, whilst a huge amount has been achieved in the past twenty years, ongoing challenges such as the pension gap, and the progression of women in some groupings are live issues. What was evident from the data was that change has been possible in different professions, and the challenge is now to learn from the success stories.
The speech given by Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell was wise, perceptive, and gave a powerful insight into the successful career of an educator, media commentator and Senator, and the challenges faced along the way. As well as offering inspiring advice, the Senator’s speech was both searingly honest, and uproariously funny, leading to a standing ovation from the audience at the end.
A panel discussion followed chaired by Lise Hand, and involving Dr. Siobhan O’Halloran, (Chief Nurse of the Department of Health), Patricia King (General Secretary ICTU), Dr. Peter Boylan, and Dr. Edward Kelly (Third Act). Debate was lively when questions were posed such as the challenges of balancing family with working pressures, and the challenges for women working in predominantly male environments. A lively conversation flowed, echoing the tone of the day overall.
The final speaker of the morning was Áine Duggan, Executive Director of GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, whose key message was on the inter-connectedness of diversity issues, stressing the fact that diversity responses from organisations must meet the needs of people under a range of themes including gender, sexual orientation, disability, race etc. and that strategies must acknowledge that women from minority groups may be open to double discrimination.
The afternoon session began with an uplifting performance from the Health Services Choir, which set the tone for the afternoon, followed by the Minister’s messages to the assembled group.
Tony O’Brien, noted that the HSE has come a distance in employing women at senior level, and also paid tribute to the women leaders.
One of the key goals of the day was to hear the voices from the audience, and so, expertly facilitated by Libby Kinneen, the National Lead for ODD, participants were asked for their views on the biggest challenges for women leaders and how these could be best overcome. Feedback suggests that issues such as confidence in themselves still presents challenges to many women in leadership roles. The good news is that there are numerous excellent suggestions on dealing with some of the persistent barriers, which will be actioned during the life cycle of the People Strategy.
The final keynote speaker of the day was Eilish Hardiman, CEO of the Children’s Hospital who gave an inspiring account of her career journey to date.
The event was closed by the National Director of HR, Rosarii Mannion, who thanked the speakers, organising team and attendees, for what had been a thought-provoking and inspiring day. The HSE looks forward to International Women’s Day in 2018 as part of the annual calendar and are currently working on identifying the theme. Watch this space.