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2 posts from August 2012

20 August 2012

Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee: Boxing and Business

London is basking in the wake of Olympic bliss as natives cautiously trickle back into the city and celebrate an exceptionally smooth and successful two weeks of athletic magnificence. The theme of the games has been, "Inspire a Generation," and as the streets fill with bicyclists, runners, and pick-up basketball games (more than she's ever seen on the London streets, a colleague told me yesterday), you can't help but believe that it has done just that.


I believe strongly in the power of sports to develop young girls into leaders, so imagine my delight when Aoife arrived from Dublin yesterday with this blog on Katie Taylor, Olympic gold medallist and Irish boxing phenomenon...enjoy!


Hello all,

Olympic fever has likely had an impact on you all for the past few weeks, as a spectacular Olympic event took place in London.  This is not the first time the gender agenda has considered athletics, a previous blog by Dale brought focus to the link between involvement in team sports and female success in business.  This blog looks at the parallels of a successful female boxer and the successful business leader.

Here in my native Ireland, the Olympic excitement and celebrations have been amazing.  A small nation (population 4.59 million), Olympic medals come few and far between.  London, 2012, however presented us with our first gold medal in twenty years, awarded to Katie Taylor, of Bray, Co. Wicklow. 


We all know that world champions of any nature are both special and few and far between.  In boxing, like the C-suite, female champions are indeed even sparser.  Those business leaders that have been truly great and are globally admired were not just successful business leaders achieving greatness during their peak, but they left behind a legacy.  Katie Taylor, has and is without doubt achieving greatness.  She is a five time European champion, four time World champion, and now Olympic champion. 

But she has not just made history in this regard.  Katie, herself, is credited with being instrumental in getting female boxing included in the London games.  So successful were the female bouts, that the number of weight divisions has already been increased for Rio, 2016.  It is in this regard, that Katie like the greats of the business world has not just achieved greatness, but created a legacy, and all by the tender age of 26.

Katie is a history maker; the first female boxer to win lightweight gold at an Olympics games, the first female boxer to be awarded the accolade of female boxer of the Olympic tournament, the first boxer to win a gold medal for Ireland in twenty years.  

However, despite Katie’s shrewd competitive streak and ambition, she is a shy, humble, reserved and modest young woman.  Traits that have endeared her so much to the Irish public and boxing world, they have made her the poster girl for sport in Ireland and women’s boxing globally.  Upon completion of each Olympic bout, she thanked her faith, her team, and her support, with not a hint of an ego or self proclamation.  In my mind, she achieves what Jim Collins describes as level 5 leadership.  In the boardroom, she would be described as the authentic rather than the charismatic leader. 

Those who might not know much about boxing might consider it a brutal and rough sport. It is however in fact nicknamed the ‘sweet science’ because it is a game of tactics.  Katie studies her competitors pre-bout, analyses   their form and every development throughout the fight, all while fighting with the expectations of a nation on her shoulders.  Just like the boardroom executive, to achieve her accolades Katie has undoubtedly had to be a strategic thinker. 

When her opposition appeared to resort to what the sport would call as ‘trash talk’ before the gold medal match, Katie did not respond.  Post-win she thanked her opposition for providing an excellent and challenging fight.  Katie is ethical and the consummate professional. 

Despite all of her success gender has of course been a factor.  For her first few years boxing she had no choice but to spar with males as there were no women in the sport. Had Katie been a male, she would have achieved national and global acclaim after her first world title.  Being female, this acclaim was slower to come.  But with time and success she became a national hero and sweetheart.  Being female, she had to fight hard not just for her place, but for the place of her sport at the Olympic Games; where gold medal success has no doubt guaranteed her the global acclaim she deserves.  These extra challenges of course drive parallels with the sentiments littered throughout the gender diversity literature and the extra challenges women have to overcome to make it to the c-suite.

Of course, being a success and dominating the field of female boxing has not been achieved solely by Katie herself.  She has had the appropriate family support, boxing support, coaching team and most importantly mentoring and sponsorship.  Mentors and sponsors that pushed her on, took chances on her and made opportunities for her when they did not exist.  The same sponsorship ethos required for business professionals, particularly women to advance as per Hewlett’s  The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling’

Katie is without doubt a role model for all aspiring young sports women.  The photo below shows me wishing I had just some of Katie’s talent.


However, her strategic thinking, ethics and professionalism, authenticity, ability to change the rules and create a legacy make Katie a role model and inspiration for aspiring young business women also.  If Katie can make it to the top in boxing, why can’t more women make it to the top in business!

I shed a tear when Katie won her gold, and while some might consider amateur boxing and business as worlds apart, for me the opposite is true.  This blog is my tribute to Katie, for the inspiration and pride she has brought to every woman in Ireland and perhaps beyond.


09 August 2012

Life-changing experiences: gender, mobility, and leadership

This week's blog post introduces my new colleague, Aoife, to the PwC Global D&I team, and explores the connections between gender and mobility experiences. Enjoy!


Hello and nice to meet you,

My name is Aoife and I am excited to have recently joined Dale in PwC’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Programme Office (a virtual office, I am based in Dublin).

In his book ‘The Leadership Mystique’, Kets De Vries (INSEAD) highlights how living and working in a foreign country is typically the single most influential developmental experience identified by effective global business leaders.  Mobility has and continues to be a key thread in my own career as I start my next chapter with the Global D&I team.

In 2000, I started my career with PwC's Learning & Development Team in Ireland. After five years, I transitioned to my first global role where I was responsible for operations and project management in our Global Ethics and Business Conduct Office.  Two years later I transitioned to my second global role where I implemented EPIC, a global key talent management programme offering developmental international assignments to our key talent below manager level.  I stayed involved with EPIC with my mandate expanding to involve global souring projects for four years (that's me, below - second from the right - with PwC's Global Mobility team in 2009) before my recent move to Diversity & Inclusion

Team 2

I am excited that my Diversity & Inclusion role will continue my work on projects that facilitate positive change for our network. As I develop my subject matter expertise in global diversity, I've naturally drawn parallels with my own professional journey.  Responsibility for EPIC has been a real career highlight for me; having gone through the experience of an international assignment myself, I really felt I that I was involved in an offering that offered our less experienced talent a life changing experience. My time in PwC's Boston office, as a 25 year old, moving into a new role and not knowing one person in the city without doubt provided me with the most professional and personal growth and development I've had to date.

Aoife and Donatienne

Rosalie L. Tung the Professor of International Business at Simon Fraser University in Canada, has highlighted in her research how people with international experience are pivotal to an organisation’s competitive edge in our globalised economy; with a ‘global mindset’ considered a critical competency for promotion to leadership.  What's interesting, however, is that currently only about 20% of international assignees are female.  So, what was really special for me regarding EPIC, is that 44% of our participants are female; perhaps because the international opportunity is offered early in the career! In fact, recent research and thought leadership by McKinsey suggests that women should be offered career accelerant opportunities (like international assignments) earlier in their career in order to support advancement.

Another key theme that has been beckoning at me as I get to grips with diversity is the importance of mentorship and sponsorship in supporting female progression. 

The HBR research report The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling’ outlines sponsors as powerful backers who, when they discern talent, anoint it with their attention and support, promoting the talent while also protecting, preparing and pushing them.  I am testament to the power of the sponsor. While not obvious to me at the time, it was my relationship with one of the previous global leaders I worked with that changed my own career journey. He supported, pushed and promoted me so that I was selected for the EPIC position.

This sponsorship was vital to me getting the role and my first management level position given that other stakeholders were concerned that I did not have subject matter expertise in the field of expatriate management at the time.  

Becoming more familiar with the extant diversity literature has truly made me realise the importance of sponsorship for my career; past, present and future!

I leave you with one final note, another prevalent theme I am becoming familiar with: the importance of networking.  Four years ago during my first weeks in my EPIC role, I met Dale for the first time in London.  We were both interested in each others’ roles and since then continued to ‘virtually’ network with each other.  It was this networking relationship that proved fruitful in me getting the opportunity to start my current career adventure. 

I look forward to blogging again soon and now that you know me I promise to keep them shorter.