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How far has Ireland come in the diversity and inclusion revolution?

Still ‘a long way to go’ for Defence Forces but a proactive approach will see progress

Diversity and inclusion has been a hot topic for more than 20 years now, and during that time the face of the Irish workforce has changed dramatically.

How far have we come – and how far do we have to go? We asked two women in very different roles where they believe Ireland is at when it comes to the D&I revolution.

Gillian Collins, Comdt PSS, gender equality

and diversity adviser, human resources branch, Defence Forces

The Defence Forces developed its first ever diversity and inclusion strategy statement and action plan in 2016 which articulated a Defence Forces commitment to D&I across various strands of the organisation. This saw initiatives such as the creation of the DF Women's Network and the Defence Forces LGBTA Network, Defend with Pride, for example. There is no denying that this has seen subtle shifts in organisational culture. DF personnel, for the first time in its history, marched in uniform at Dublin's 2018 Pride parade.

There is still a way to go, however a continued proactive approach of trying new things, promoting initiatives and listening and learning will see the gradual progression of the wider D&I agenda. Change requires strong leadership and a commitment to broadening our established thought processes. Covid-19 may have seen a shift in priorities, however diversity and inclusion is more important now than ever.

From a Defence Forces perspective, I think in the future we will see a very different organisation to the one that exists currently, one that more reflects the Irish society we serve. Having a diverse team means an enhanced operational effectiveness. This relates to an increased ability to effectively operate in different situations and environments globally, to more effectively problem solve, to avoid groupthink.

The result is a force better equipped overall to adapt to emerging challenges. As technology develops and the threat landscape itself continues to change, so too will the demands on our soldiers. I would hope that the work we are doing now within the framework of the diversity and inclusion strategy is laying the foundation for equipping our soldiers with the necessary means to meet future challenges.

Siobhán McAleer, commercial director, Irish Management Institute

As a woman working in business and coming off maternity leave 15 and 18 years ago, it just wasn’t talked about, you came back and you hit the ground running, or at least you were supposed to. That’s just one element but I think there’s a much broader awareness now.

I have become more aware personally and more active in this area. I have two boys who are teenagers and I feel this starts in the home and I make sure to have chats around the dinner table with them about all the elements of diversity and inclusion.

It’s more than just a conversation now, it’s part of how companies operate, from how they recruit and set their targets. A lot of companies would have a diversity and inclusion lead now. Even five or 10 years ago the dialogue was very different.

But it’s not universal, we see role models but not all the organisations who have formal policies are actually acting on it. It has been interesting to see with the Covid crisis how responsibilities have fallen back on women in terms of childcare. That’s something we need to be aware of going forward, it shouldn’t automatically be the default that women are impacted.

We have made a lot of progress in terms of participation by women and going up the management pipeline but Covid-19 was a retrograde step and highlighted the fragility of it and how childcare needs to be much more embedded in government policy. We also need to make it acceptable for men to take time out. There is still a lot of progress to make and we will know we have made it when it’s part of the narrative and the expectation.

Danielle Barron

Danielle Barron is a contributor to The Irish Times