By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland

Kirsty McManus
Kirsty McManus

A common misconception is that the only people to find success are those born with a silver spoon in their mouth, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I take a look at the business leaders around me, in Northern Ireland and further field, I see entrepreneurs from a myriad of backgrounds, each with their own story – and many that have thrived from adversity, either through personal or professional circumstances.

Increasing also is the growing gender diversity among those at the top of the business ladder.

This major topic of conversation is more than just a ‘moment’ to try and level the corporate playing field. It is a ‘movement’ that is making a huge impact on how companies operate and economies prosper.

Here in Northern Ireland we are fortunate to benefit from a multitude of diverse and successful business leaders, and we are proud that many of our most successful companies are led by women.

However, it is evident that further progress is required to ensure women are given the opportunity to progress to higher executive roles.

A new report from BoardEx and Odgers Berndtson found that just 21% of leadership roles are filled by women across the UK with male CEOs earning on average three times as much as their female counterparts, as highlighted by the World Economic Forum.

It is clear attitudes are changing, partly due to the fact women are increasingly working within a wider spectrum of roles and functions, acting as role models to upcoming generations as a result. According to The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) for example, the proportion of women in engineering roles has increased from 5.8% in 2009 to 10.3% in 2019.

They include celebrated spacecraft operation engineer, Nagin Cox, who will be among the guest speakers at our Women’s Leadership Conference next year.

Nagin speaks of first-hand experience of the discrimination associated with gender inequality from a very young age and in many ways, this is what “helped deliver her to her calling.”

Part of the team that operates NASA’s rovers, Nagin has held both leadership and system engineering positions on interplanetary robotic missions and was the first engineer to sit on the Human Rights Watch’s advisory committee for women’s rights.

We’ll also hear from Dame Stephanie Shirley, the first female Master of the IT livery company and the first woman President of the Chartered British Computer Society.

Starting a leading business technology group with only £6 in 1962, there is much we can learn from her.

With a former Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain providing a headline address, there is no doubt the virtual event next March will inspire and teach us how the recipe for success.

And it could just be that success is borne from all manner of beginnings, taking no heed of privilege, gender or any other factor outside our control, proving that ‘great leaders rise out of adversity’.