PayPal’s Louise Phelan: ‘The most important thing you can develop in women is confidence’

8 Mar 2016

Louise Phelan, PayPal VP of global operations, EMEA

Today is International Women’s Day – a day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. Louise Phelan, VP of global operations EMEA at PayPal, tells us why she celebrates the day, and why she hopes that, someday, she won’t need to.

It’s hard to believe that gender is still such an issue in Ireland. Progress is being made – only last week, we saw that when a record 35 women were elected to Dáil Eireann. But, still, women continue to battle the gender barrier at the ballot box and in the boardroom and, until that changes, I will continue to celebrate events like International Women’s Day.

Statistics give us little cause for celebration. The most recent EU stats show us that women make up just 10.5pc of board members at the largest publicly-listed companies in Ireland – well below the EU average of 18.6pc.

Future Human

Furthermore, a survey published by Catalyst revealed that only one in 10 directors at Irish publicly-listed companies are women. And a report by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) has shown that less than a third of senior academic positions in Ireland are held by women.

Diversity of thought is critical for any organisation’s top table. That’s why having a mix of men and women, as well as a mix of skills and perspectives, in our boardrooms is good for business.

My leadership team in PayPal’s Global Operations EMEA is representative of both genders, and I am certain that this contributes to our success. By having so many senior females at the top table, we are inspiring generations of women working at PayPal in Ireland, and hopefully beyond the organisation, too.

We recently welcomed female transition year students from two local schools into our Ballycoolin office as part of a workshop to encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM. Meanwhile, through the Going for Growth Programme, I am currently mentoring eight aspiring female entrepreneurs.

‘I feel a very strong responsibility to act as a role model to other women in any way that I can’

The most important thing you can develop in a woman is her confidence. Society has a way of undermining confidence, especially in women, and I hope that the next generation is one that helps build women up, not tear them down.

I feel a very strong responsibility to act as a role model to other women in any way that I can, and so should every woman – and indeed man – in a senior position in business or public life. Each and every one of us has an obligation to inspire women to take on senior roles. We should all be supporting our women and empowering them to develop their careers.

Maternity leave is an obvious example. It can be very difficult for women to settle back into the workforce after six months, or more, off work. Workplaces must do more to support women through this transition. We have a maternity strategy in PayPal that makes sure our women still feel part of the team during their leave, and we provide – through our healthcare partner VHI – access to midwifery and paediatric services. Meanwhile, through our LiveWell Programme, we offer assistance to parents looking to find suitable childcare before returning to work.

At PayPal, we put a huge focus on diversity and inclusion. We don’t want anyone in our company to feel that their gender, nationality or sexual orientation is a barrier to their career advancement. That’s why we sponsor initiatives like Pride Parade, run tailor-made two-day diversity and inclusion training workshops, invest in our maternity strategy and celebrate events like International Women’s Day.

I firmly believe that if we succeed in encouraging more women into leadership positions, we will change the face of the corporate world. With every woman that makes it to the top of her game, we get that bit closer to changing the status quo – and that bit closer to no longer needing special days to remind people of the contribution of women to society.