Gender neutral workplaces are better, says Vodafone boss

Male dominated boards must ask them themselves ‘are we informed enough?’

Anne O’Leary, chief executive of Vodafone Ireland: “Women need to join companies that are supportive of gender diversity.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Anne O’Leary, chief executive of Vodafone Ireland: “Women need to join companies that are supportive of gender diversity.” Photograph: Eric Luke


Businesses need to create gender neutral environments so all employees can reach their full potential, said the chief executive of Vodafone Ireland.

“If we want to build a pipeline of great women in Ireland, women need to join companies that are supportive of gender diversity, that have women in senior positions and have policies in place where there’s flexibility and agility,” Anne O’Leary, told Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ radio.

Speaking before International Women’s Day on Sunday, Ms O’Leary said women often feel they need to tone down feminine behaviour when working in male dominated organisations.

“The environment you find yourself in, the culture, the way people act, behave and dress – to succeed you have to fit in,” she said. “Feminine behaviour and values are not necessarily supported and certainly when I was going through my career I wore a trouser suit.”

Ms O’Leary said a gender balance at senior levels in corporations and at board level is taking far too long to come into effect, and supports the use of quotas as a means of speeding up the process.

She said companies with boards made up almost entirely of men must ask them themselves whether they are informed enough and are making the right decisions. These organisations need to be proactive and find the women with the necessary qualifications and experience to join them at board level, she added.

Staff at Vodafone offices are divided by a ratio of 60:40, men to women, but as you move higher in the organisation you tend to encounter more women, said Ms O’Leary.

“What we’re finding is 80 per cent of the decisions made in the household now are by the mother, by the woman, so I need to build products and services and market to the person who makes the buying decision.”

“I’m only doing this because it delivers great business results,” said Ms O’Leary. “If you think about my company, I can’t have a whole lot of men building the products and doing the marketing, they won’t connect with my customers. Women in general have different behaviours, different styles.”

Ms O’Leary said she’s discovered an equal balance of male and female employees creates a more successful business model.

“Women can be more connected around networking... influencing. Men can be more in command and in control. If you bring those two styles together you get... the perfect decision-making, and ultimately the perfect business results.”

A PwC survey published on Friday shows that more than half of Irish women born between 1980 and 1995 believe their employers favour male colleagues when it comes to internal promotion.

The report, which survey nearly 9,000 women including 139 participants in Ireland, shows that two-thirds of Irish women aged between 20 and 35 believe that while companies may talk about promoting diversity in the workplace, opportunities are not equal.