BORN in Cork city but now living in Dublin, Vodafone Ireland chief executive Anne O’Leary made a trip home this week to inspire the next generation.
She was one of a number of high-profile speakers to attend the Science, Tech, Engineering & Maths (STEM) Showcase for girls in City Hall.
The event was organised by I Wish, a Cork-based initiative to encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM.
Ms O’Leary paid tribute to the founders and believes the event can have a major impact.
“When I was a young girl there weren’t events like this and I think it is really inspiring for these girls at a crucial time when they are thinking about their careers and opportunities,” she said.
“It is important to inform them about technology, the roles that are available and the importance of studying STEM subjects. 5000 girls are going to attend this event over the four days, which is amazing. If even 10 or 20% take something away from that, if they can be guided and encouraged to do these subjects I think it is great. I want to see more women in the workplace, more women having opportunities and more women making the right choices.”
In her own working life, Ms O’Leary has seen change in the industry but says there is a lot more to be done.
“As CEO, to see only 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, the FTSE 100 is the same, of course, it is disappointing. However, I am part of Vodafone and I see the statistics we have and the focus on it — we are building a really strong pipeline of potential leaders and I think all the tech companies are working to make sure we have a really good gender balance in terms of graduates.”
The focus on gender makes sense as a business decision.
“It is a business imperative. Products and services that are designed in diversity are better, results are better. Consumers want to buy from brands that have gender-diverse boards and management and it is becoming absolutely key.”
As CEO of a communications company, Ms O’Leary knows that connectivity is key for STEM industries and said they are focused on providing the best possible network around Ireland, highlighting Skibbereen as an example.
“Our vision is to pioneer the gigabit society, that’s what we do. We have a joint venture with the ESB. We went to Ludgate in Skibbereen and brought one-gigabit broadband to the town. People can work from the Hub or work from home. Businesses in the town are thriving and people are moving there.”
With the ever-growing importance of technology and the internet, Ms O’Leary believes communication companies have a crucial role to play to ensure there is equality of access.
“Technology is the next industrial revolution and our role is to support Ireland to attract investment, to encourage indigenous businesses to start up wherever, urban or rural.
“We can’t have all the accumulation in big cities because of traffic and congestion and costs. You need a thriving capital, there is no doubt about that.
“However, if you want to live in the country you should be able to start a business and have access to the latest online learning, e-health or whatever. We need to work to make sure there is equality of access, for people that choose to live there.”
The Science, Tech, Engineering & Maths (STEM) Showcase took place in City Hall on Thursday and Friday before moving to the RDS in Dublin next week.