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How women can escape the sticky floor of career stagnation

Carol Andrews, 30% Club lead in Ireland, on how to overcome barriers in the workplace

Illustration: iStock

Illustration: iStock


Influenced by strong women in life like her grandmother, Carol Andrews wants to encourage women to be more confident in challenging the environment of the workplace.

Andrews is the 30% Club lead in Ireland and a managing director of BNY Mellon Ireland and has worked in the financial services industry for more than 25 years.

She began her career working for the Mutual Assurance Company in Ireland, where she was responsible for setting up the Dublin office. She then went on to join the securities services arm of Allied Irish Bank and through a joint venture became head of hedge fund client services for BNY Mellon in 2007.

Since then she has had a number of diverse roles in the company, in Brussels, New York and Dublin and most recently she became global head of client service directors in the BNY Mellon Asset Servicing business.

Having recently completed a master’s at the Irish Management Institute/University College Cork, she says further education was key to her and something everyone should consider.

Although she has “not encountered overt sexism”, the environment she works in has been traditionally male. She says she has “no doubt” that gender bias, be it conscious or unconscious, is one of the many underlying reasons for the current imbalance in many professional areas and in business leadership.

Andrew became involved with the 30% Club as she believed with the right mentor or sponsor, women could overcome challenges and thrive in their careers.

“We started with a soft launch of the 30% Club in Ireland in 2014, led by Marie O’Connor [a former partner in PWC in Ireland and the first woman to in that role] as the country lead. Our goal was to achieve better gender balance at all levels in leading Irish business, and we have not looked back. Now in 2018 we have 220 chairs and chief executives signed up to the club, committed to accelerating gender balance in their organisations,” she says.

In addition, the 30% Club in Ireland has developed a number of programmes, including working with third-level institutions to provide executive education scholarships, mentorship and leadership development programmes, undertaking research as well as hosting events throughout the year, in Dublin and other cities.

Sustainable change

For Andrews, achieving sustainable change will depend on real and visible leadership in business as well as a focus at national level and that having hard data regarding women’s representation is key.

“In 2010 the UK Davies Review showed that women held just 12.5 per cent of Ftse board positions and set a target of increasing this to 25 per cent by 2015. Thanks to good work by 30% Club colleagues, among others, this now stands at about 28 per cent,” she says.

“We’re less advanced in our journey in Ireland. Some 17 per cent of board positions on companies listed on the Irish Stock Exchange are currently held by women and about 40 per cent of those boards are all-male,” she says.

Carol Andrews: “Business will continue reshaping their workplaces and systems to facilitate more male parental leave”
Carol Andrews: “Business will continue reshaping their workplaces and systems to facilitate more male parental leave”

For the past two years, 30% Club Ireland has partnered with Dublin City University, supported by BNY Mellon, to publish, for the first time, Women in Management, profiling Irish business management. The results illustrate the under-representation of women at managerial level, with a low proportion of managerial roles across organisation types, sectors and size and steeply declining representation at more senior levels.

The report also found that where companies were headed by a female chief executive, there were more women in senior leadership positions and cites the “role modelling effect” as being a likely catalyst for this phenomenon.

“Targets can provide a clearer path towards gender parity at senior levels. What gets measured gets done,” she says.

While we hear more these days about the sticky floor – where women get to a certain point in career but then family commitments intervene – than the glass ceiling, Andrews believes change is possible.

“Whether the impediments are glass ceilings, sticky floors, leaky pipelines, it is fairly obvious that women on average do not progress at the same rate as men do in business. There are many factors that contribute to these barriers but one that immediately comes to mind is childcare,” she says.

“As a mother I don’t view childcare to be a burden, rather I see it is a privilege, as does my husband. As a business person I know that facilitating childcare responsibilities needs me to rethink my systems and designs,” she says.

Flexible practices

BNY Mellon offers flexibility in work practices to men and women so that they can plan their days and engage in activities other than business work.

She points to a piece of Irish research based in financial services called Making the Change Count, which showed that Irish men and women equally look for flexibility in family caring in modern careers, but there is still a perception that taking it is career-limiting.

“I genuinely believe that many men would love to have workplaces that facilitate parental leave for them, and when you travel to countries like Sweden, you see shared parental leave in operation.

“It is my opinion that business will continue reshaping their workplaces and systems to facilitate more male parental leave. I cannot change society or the way of the world. However, I can make sure that the system of work I design does not create barriers that are leading to the ‘sticky floor’,” she says.

She encourages other women building their careers to be curious and to always remember you learn and grow with everything you do.

“I’ll start with the best piece of advice that someone gave me, which was from a mentor who would always ask me: ‘What is stopping you? What are you afraid of?’ Education is a key element of success for me. I did not get a formal third-level education and a great friend and mentor said exactly that. I think women tend to strive for perfection and this hinders their progression, as they want to have all the knowledge at the outset but you don’t have all the answers, all the time – you have to go and find them. Don’t be afraid!,” she adds

How to get ahead

– Consider your network and who might give you guidance and support in your career, perhaps a mentor or a sponsor.

– Consider having a “personal board of directors”, a group of people you consult with regularly to get advice and feedback, which completely changed my thinking.

– Also, don’t let yourself be boxed in and don’t be conscious of titles – linear moves really help you to learn the business. Don’t be afraid!

– And finally, but arguably most importantly, you don’t have to be superhuman. We all want to live in a world where we can each perform the work best suited to our personal abilities; where an individual can achieve the same levels of success, respect and pay regardless of where they start in life with true parity, diversity and inclusion.