Mary O’Reilly, VP, Inclusion and Organisational Effectiveness, reflects on the International Women’s Day panel and events held at ICON’s global headquarters in Dublin.

On 8 March, ICON hosted a series of live and virtual events across our organisation to recognise International Women’s Day. We encouraged all our office-based employees to attend their local events and wear purple to demonstrate their support. At our global headquarters in Dublin, we had a significant turnout for our coffee morning and panel discussion. It was inspiring to see the demonstrations of support from Dublin and our major hubs in the US and India, as well as our local sites across the globe.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year was #EmbraceEquity to raise awareness of the obstacles that women face in taking advantage of equal opportunities. If opportunities are equal but not equitable, they don’t help to close the gap. From an inclusion and organisational effectiveness perspective, this is an important point of distinction for us to bear in mind for all diversity, equity and inclusion work. During our coffee morning at the Dublin office, I was honoured to moderate a panel with Lucy Gernon of Powerhouse Revolution Coaching, Geraldine Murphy of Evolution Partners and members of ICON’s senior leadership. Together, we discussed women’s empowerment and equity in the workplace. These conversations help to renew our commitment to our shared cause, recalibrate our efforts and surface our learnings and insights to drive action.


Empowerment for individuals

The conversation around gender equity has two key elements, the individual and the organisational. The first part of our panel discussion began with addressing the individual, exploring ways to empower women to recognise their own potential first, espouse a growth mindset and do away with self-limiting beliefs. The panellists discussed imposter syndrome and how it affects more women than men, often causing them to miss out on opportunities they don't feel qualified for. More importantly, the panellists offered concrete steps for deconstructing that internal narrative while empowering oneself to move beyond it.

The most immediate barriers we face can sometimes be our own mindset, especially when we internalise those negative messages. We must first believe in ourselves and our ability to achieve our goals when we put in the work. Sharing these personal stories and strategies among a group of women colleagues and allies inspired a sense of togetherness, reminding women that they have resources to help support them.


Organisational transformation

Women have historically been underrepresented in the workforce, especially at senior leadership levels. The road to equity is a two-way street. Women must be prepared with the tools, skills and confidence to seize opportunities, but organisations must put structures in place to facilitate diversity and deconstruct barriers from higher levels. At ICON, we use simple interviewing quotas to ensure equity in the consideration phase for each open position and key progress indicators to track and measure the impact of our Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging efforts. We have established DI&B community groups (Employee Resource Groups), that actively build a culture of awareness through thought leadership, social connections and education, such as the Community Group Learning Journeys available on our Intranet and Career Hub portals.

At ICON, we are working toward gender parity at senior leadership levels by 2025. About 70% of our employees are women, so parity at senior levels is within reach – we have the talent and the resources and have made steady progress in closing the gender gap at senior leadership roles. Like many other organisations, we must continue transforming the way we lead, including how we characterise good leadership and prioritise those qualities. As we re-evaluate what makes a good leader, emotional intelligence (EQ) and collaboration are increasingly important factors for success. As was stated at the panel discussion, we want to ensure that the best person gets the job, and we know that diversity is what’s best for the organisation as a whole. Ensuring that our senior leadership reflects the diversity of our organisation is the best way forward.


The business case for women

Inclusion, Collaboration and Integrity are part of our core values and they drive our continued efforts to improve DI&B and achieve gender parity. Beyond that, diversity offers many benefits that ripple throughout the levels of our organisation; it fosters innovation and creativity and welcomes unique talent, giving us a competitive advantage and a more agile approach. In prioritising and valuing diversity at the highest levels of our organisation, we create a ripple effect of openness and innovation, collaboration and empowerment. Reaching gender equity is a journey of all levels and every step counts. To reach our goals, everyone must join in.

We will continue our commitment to driving progress and thank everyone who celebrated International Women’s Day with us and participated in this important conversation. Through these events and discussions, we can come together and harness the momentum to affect change. We all benefit when women are empowered, as an organisation and as individuals, so let us continue to #EmbraceEquity together.