Top female entrepreneurs call for new cultural norm

New statistics from the CSO show that women missing out on top jobs in companies

Alison Cowzer  co-founder and CEO of East Coast Bakehouse: ‘The challenge is around the cultural issues.’

Alison Cowzer co-founder and CEO of East Coast Bakehouse: ‘The challenge is around the cultural issues.’


Society needs to “embed a cultural norm” of young girls and women having the ambition to rise to the top and continue their careers if the gender gap in the upper echelons of Irish companies is to be rebalanced, according to entrepreneur Sonya Lennon.

New figures published by the Central Statistics Office on Thursday showed just one in nine chief executive officers in large enterprises in Ireland in 2019 are women, while women occupy only 28 per cent of senior executive roles.

Ms Lennon, who is the founder of Dress for Success Dublin, which is a charity that promotes the economic independence of women by providing career development tools, said the issue was “historical, cultural, and personal”.

“What I do think is very heartening is that the conversation is alive now and we can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” she said.

Cathriona Hallahan, managing director of Microsoft Ireland, said the CSO figures provide a fact-based perspective on the status quo and the significant progress that must be made across all sectors in order to promote greater diversity at leadership level.

“Critically, organisations need to look at their pipeline of talent at all levels to ensure that the right people are in place to compete for the most senior roles as they progress through their careers.”


Alison Cowzer, co-founder and chief executive of East Coast Bakehouse, agreed that building a pipeline of female talent and retaining female executives at higher levels was the key.

“The lifestyle that comes with these senior positions is brutal in many cases,” she said. “We have a very one dimensional approach to work, and I think we need to change that. Both men and women need a little more bandwidth to do other things such as family.

“The challenge is around the cultural issues. There is a change in work practices required. Many organisations do not have an environment in place that allows individuals to be involved in things other than work.

“We’re seeing huge levels of talented women coming in at junior levels in organisations. We see it even further back at college level. Then we see women developing their careers, getting to a certain point, and then that cliff edge appears.”

Marie Joyce, chief financial officer with renewable energy investment company NTR, said the figures were “disappointing”.

“I thought it might have better improved by now,” she said. “There are plenty of female leaders out there who are well able to do these jobs. It’s not a shortage of talent.

“It is improving with some pace but perhaps the perception of what a CEO looks like needs to change. People expect the CEO be to a man in a suit. Women have a different style of management, and can bring so much to the table.”