Award winner welcomes growing role for women

Margaret Downes has served on numerous boards in business and the arts

Margaret Downes with her award for her exceptional contribution to Irish business and society. Photograph: Alan Betson

For a generation that takes gender balance, inclusiveness and diversity as expected norms in the Irish workplace, it can be difficult to appreciate just what the Irish business landscape looked like in the 1950s and 1960s.

Margaret Downes, a shopkeeper's daughter from Ballina, Co Mayo, who joined Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and became the only woman president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, was in many ways a trailblazer for more recent generations.

One of the first woman directors of Bank of Ireland, and someone who has also served on numerous other boards in both business and the arts, Downes has now been honoured with the Irish Academy of Management Whitaker Award for her exceptional lifelong contribution to Irish business and society.

Speaking after receiving the accolade, Downes noted the conspicuous absence of "leaders" like Ken Whitaker in public discourse during the Celtic Tiger years which might have prevented the subsequent business and personal trauma.


Noting the rapid pace of change in business life, she welcomed in particular the involvement of more women in all aspects of Irish life, including business

“If I was asked to advise any young woman starting out on their career today, I would say ‘be yourself, be authentic and stand by your values and your principles’.

“In the words of the country song ‘you gotta stand for something or you’ll fall for anything’.”