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Female Empowerment in Business

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Published: Wed, 13 Sep 2017

 On March 9th 2017, I attended an event run by Enterprise Ireland (EI) in conjunction with Bank of Ireland and DCU on Female Leadership and Growing Ambition. It was held in the Houses of Parliament on College Green, Dublin. The talk was part of Enterprise Week 2017 and was scheduled to mark International Women’s Day.

The following is a list of female entrepreneurs who spoke at the event:

  • Norah Casey, Harmonia (event mc)
  • Gina O’Reilly, COO Nitro
  • Niamh Bushnell, Tech Ireland
  • Áine Mulloy, co-founder Girlcrew
  • Emma Killian, co-founder Britebiz & Bentley Productions

The event was open to people who are passionate about the success of women in business and provided individuals with the opportunity to learn from the panellists experience and also contribute to the discussion around Global Ambition.

Gina O’Reilly, COO of Nitro was the keynote speaker at the event. Nitro is a global leader in document solutions. The organisation was founded in Australia in 2005 and their enterprise solutions are used by more than 600,000 businesses globally, including over half of the Fortune 500. They are headquartered in San Francisco and have in excess of 200 employees worldwide. Currently Nitro have offices in Dublin and Melbourne and to date they have raised over $30m in outside investment (Nitro, 2017).

Gina has been part of the Nitro team since 2008, and has global responsibility for sales, marketing, business development, customer service, and operations. She has over 12 years of software industry experience. Gina’s passion for Nitro shone through in her talk. She holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix as well as a BA International Marketing & Languages from DCU (Nitro, 2017).

Norah Casey, entrepreneur, publisher and the owner and CEO of Harmonia, Ireland’s largest magazine publishing company was MC on the day. Norah ran several successful publishing companies in London and set up her won publishing company back home in Ireland in 2004. Harmonia publishes a range of market leading magazines including Irish Tatler and Woman’s Way. She also has a varied and diverse investment portfolio (RTE, 2017).

Niamh Bushnell of Tech Ireland, co-founded her first company, Pan Research, in Dublin in 1996. She also founded and invested in companies in New York before being headhunted by Dublin Chamber and Dublin City Council in 2014 to become Dublin’s first start-up commissioner. Her task was to promote Dublin as a start-up city (Irish Examiner, 2017).

Áine Mulloy, co-founder of GirlCrew, a social network for women to meet and socialise has a BA in English & History and an MA in Literature and Publishing from NUIG, she also holds a postgraduate diploma in Digital Marketing from The Marketing Institute (LinkedIn, 2017). However, she gave up a successful career in publishing to start GirlCrew with four of her friends. GirlCrew is currently in over 40 cities around the world, including New York, Sydney and even three in Texas and boats over 14,000 members (Irish Examiner b, 2017).

Emma Killian, co-founded Britebiz with her husband. With the help of a software developer they built a system that replaces disconnected software and replaces many of the awkward paper-based processes within organisations. Their software helps increase conversion rates, cuts down admin and improves customer service (BriteBiz, 2017).

“As women, we must stand up for ourselves. We must stand up for each other. We must stand up for justice for all” -Michelle Obama

I chose to take part is this activity because each of the five women I described in the previous section are role models. Role models give us hope and having the opportunity to see so many successful women speak about leadership, ambition and their own personal careers gives me hope as I approach the end of my studies and move out into the world of business.

Hearing how their careers have progressed helps reduce my personal apprehension about failure. The closer our role models are to us as individuals, the greater the effect they can have. The best role models are normal people who became successful. Getting the opportunity to hear the details about how successful people have overcome obstacles is significant as it enables us to say to ourselves “such and such was in that situation and they made it, I can too!”

When role models fulfil their role, they can provide us with a range of benefits. For instance, they can provide a model for living and for getting to the point we want to be at in our lives. Speizer (1981) says “professionals must have had one, been one, or be seeking one if they are to advance their career.”

Kemper (1968) described a role model as an individual who “possesses skills and displays techniques which the actor lacks … and from whom, by observation and comparison with his own performance the actor can learn”. Gibson (2004) stated that “The term ‘role model’ draws on two prominent theoretical constructs: the concept of role and the tendency of individuals to identify with other people… and the concept of modelling, the psychological matching of cognitive skills and patterns of behaviour between a person and an observing individual”. Organisational behaviour and career theorists have suggested that identification with role models is critical to individual growth and development (Hall, 1976; Schein, 1978; Speizer, 1981). Individuals are urged to seek role models who can help them achieve their goals (Lockwood & Kunda, 1997). Douvan (1976) asserted that role models could be important regarding professional development, “but we must take it on faith because identification and modelling have [not] been studied systematically except in pre-school children.” Little had changed almost two decades later, Javidan et al. (1995) similarly argued that “empirical research on role models is scant, and little is known of what contributes to an individual being perceived and accepted as a successful role model.”

Role models might be a figure with whom the individual is not personally familiar, for example people like Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg. Alternatively, it can someone more personal, for example, the role model might be someone in the individual’s life, like a family member or friend. Following Gibson’s (2004) theory on role models, it suggests that individuals are drawn to role models who are perceived to be similar in terms of their characteristics, behaviour or goals (the role aspect), and from whom they are able to learn certain abilities or skills (the model aspect).

Role identification can be a rational response to an individual’s belief that the other person’s characteristics are close to their own motives and character. Witt (1991) argues that role identification may result in the individual forming or adapting their preferences, it can also result in imitative behaviour. Whilst Krumboltz et al, (1976) say it may provide individuals with the motivation and inspiration to choose a direction, activity or career path.

Bandura’s (1977) Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) says that individuals are attracted to role models who can help them to develop by learning new tasks and skills (Gibson, 2004). People learn through example and when individuals observe people who excel in an area, and with whom they can identify, this can be an enhancing experience. Role models can also provide practical support and advice through a mentor mentee relationship.

Empirical evidence suggests that individuals and the role models they chose tend to be similar in terms of gender and race (Hernandez, 1995, and Ruef et al., 2003). Homophile is the tendency of individuals to associate with and bond with similar people, this guides many relationships (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). Evidence of gender homophile has been found in various contexts, such as large and voluntary organisations (McPherson & Smith-Lovin, 1987).

Role models provide living evidence that goals are achievable. The identification of, and comparison with suitable role models like Gina O’Reilly and Norah Casey can help me to define my sense of self and enhance my self-efficacy to engage in the complex and often changing world of business. This is maybe one of the most crucial aspects on the path of self-improvement.

In a previous assignment, I looked at SCCT and how it focuses on an individual’s environment and behaviours, as these are contributing factors in career development and influence actions and attainments. The theory has also been identified as useful in understanding and responding to career development for groups dealing with oppression, such as gay or lesbian (Morrow, Gore, & Campbell, 1996). I identified that I had issues with self-efficacy having been in an abusive relationship for many years. At times, I find it hard to leave my comfort zone and doubt my abilities. By applying Gibson’s (2004) theory that individuals are drawn to role models who are perceived to be similar in terms of their characteristics, behaviour or goals (the role aspect), and from whom they can learn certain abilities or skills (the model aspect) I can use a role model to motivate myself and overcome my fears.

There are opportunities to learn from a role model (through example or support) and the learning is likely to increase when the role model has experience or is better qualified than the role model ‘user’. A role model also often has a higher hierarchical position. A McKinsey study published in 2012 found that over a half of the female respondents (61%) consider the absence of worthy role models to be a barrier for their professional development (this opinion is shared just by 31% of the male respondents) (Borisova and Sterkhova, 2012).

When role models are selected from the entrepreneur’s network (instead of distant icons) they may be ‘strong ties’ such as friends or family members or ‘weak ties’ such as acquaintances, distant relatives or (former) colleagues and superiors (Granovetter, 1973). Weak tie networks are likely to fulfill a different function for the entrepreneur than strong tie networks, because the first provide access to new information and knowledge which may help entrepreneurs to explore new horizons and eventually expand the business, and the second (strong ties) may be more useful in providing mental and practical support (mentoring). Hence, we expect a relationship between role model function and network tie strength. We hypothesize the following:

To return to the Speizer (1981) quote I used earlier “professionals must have had one, been one, or be seeking one if they are to advance their career.”

References 

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy in changing societies. ed. Cambridge University Press.

Borisova, D. and Sterkhova, O. (2012). Women as a Valuable Asset. 1st ed. McKinsey, pp.1-16.

BriteBiz, (2017). Revolutionize Your Business Processes with BriteBiz|Learn How. [online] Brite Biz. Available at: http://www.britebiz.com/features-business-management-tool/ [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

Douvan, E. (1976). The Role of Models in Women’s Professional Development. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 1(1), pp.5-20.

Gibson, D. (2003). Developing the Professional Self-Concept: Role Model Construals in Early, Middle, and Late Career Stages. Organization Science, 14(5), pp.591-610.

Gibson, D. (2004). Role models in career development: New directions for theory and research. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65(1), pp.134-156.

Hall, D. (1991). Career development in organizations. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Hernandez, A. (1995). Do Role Models Influence Self Efficacy and Aspirations in Mexican American at-Risk Females?. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 17(2), pp.256-263.

Irish Examiner b, (2017). Girl Power: Organising days and nights out for women through Facebook. [online] Irishexaminer.com. Available at: http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/girl-power-organising-days-and-nights-out-for-women-through-facebook-345074.html [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

Irish Examiner, (2017). Ireland must show off tech ability, urges start-up chief. [online] Irishexaminer.com. Available at: http://www.irishexaminer.com/business/technology/ireland-must-show-off-tech-ability-urges-start-up-chief-441934.html [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

Javidan, M., Bemmels, B., Devine, K. and Dastmalchian, A. (1995). Superior and Subordinate Gender and the Acceptance of Superiors as Role Models. Human Relations, 48(11), pp.1271-1284.

Kemper, T. (1968). Reference Groups, Socialization and Achievement. American Sociological Review, [online] 33(1), p.31. Available at: http://www.jstor.org.dcu.idm.oclc.org/stable/2092238?pq-origsite=summon&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents [Accessed 11 Mar. 2017].

Krumboltz, J., Mitchell, A. and Jones, G. (1976). A Social Learning Theory of Career Selection. The Counseling Psychologist, 6(1), pp.71-81.

Labott, E. (2017). Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton team up to honor women – CNN.com. [online] Edition.cnn.com. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/03/11/womens.rights/index.html?iref=24hours [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

LinkedIn, (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ainemulloy/ [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

Lockwood, P. and Kunda, Z. (1997). Superstars and me: Predicting the impact of role models on the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, [online] 73(1), pp.91-103. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com.dcu.idm.oclc.org/science/article/pii/S0001879103000514 [Accessed 11 Mar. 2017].

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L. and Cook, J. (2001). Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 27(1), pp.415-444.

Morrow, S., Gore, Jr., P. and Campbell, B. (1996). The Application of a Sociocognitive Framework to the Career Development of Lesbian Women and Gay Men. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 48(2), pp.136-148.

Nitro, (2017). Nitro: The Smarter Way to PDF. [online] Nitro. Available at: https://www.gonitro.com/about/our-story [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

RTE, (2017). RTÉ Television – Dragons’ Den. [online] Rte.ie. Available at: http://www.rte.ie/tv/dragonsden/profile_norah.html [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].

Ruef, M., Aldrich, H. and Carter, N. (2003). The Structure of Founding Teams: Homophily, Strong Ties, and Isolation among U.S. Entrepreneurs. American Sociological Review, 68(2), p.195.

Schein, E. (1992). Career dynamics. 1st ed. Reading, Mass., [etc.]: Addison-Wesley.

Speizer, J. (1981). Role Models, Mentors, and Sponsors: The Elusive Concepts. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 6(4), pp.692-712.

Witt, U. (1991). Economics, sociobiology and behavioral psychology on preferences. Journal of Economic Psychology, 12(4), pp.557-573.


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