Earlier this year I had the honour of being shortlisted for IAPIs Doyenne Award, an award which celebrates female leadership within the advertising industry. Through this, I met a truly inspiring group of passionate, confident and engaging women – role models in the truest sense, who promote collaboration, empower teams and break boundaries.

A key topic throughout the award event speeches, was undoubtedly the sobering fact that just 18% of senior management at IAPI member agencies are female. As nominees, this made us even more resolute in our passion to mobilise and champion change. With a renewed enthusiasm, I stepped back into my day job with the question of how we address this imbalance fixed firmly in my mind.

If we want to inspire future female leaders, my instinct was to start at the point where young minds were beginning to make decisions about their future, and look for a way to encourage and inspire them, showing them that the majority of jobs today are available for women, and not just men. A chance encounter led me to connect with Junior Achievement Ireland, part of a worldwide organisation reaching out to over 10 million young people each year. JAI encourages young people to remain in education and helps them to develop the skills they need to succeed in a changing world.

In a perfect twist of fate, JAI had recently launched the Make Shape Change programme in partnership with Dublin City Council and Pivot Dublin. I immediately wanted in. The programme, facilitated through structured Power of Design workshops in city schools, creates an opportunity to talk to young people about what designers do, allows them to consider the wide variety of roles within the industry and discusses why design is so important.

My first classroom visit started with the question “what do you want to be when you are older?”. The response was deflating and unearthed a strong gender bias. Even early on in their education, young adults have already defined career opportunities as male and female.

As part of the workshop, students were encouraged to choose a design-related career through a fun quiz. Amazingly, I ended up with a room full of female game designers and architects, and male fashion designers and app developers. Their titles, emblazoned on badges they designed for themselves, generated group debate, raised questions, and most crucially set about challenging the embedded gender norms.

The platform also allowed me to talk about my job and my own career path from Receptionist to Board Director, and from that, show students how to connect their education with the many opportunities that lie ahead.

A programme like Make Shape Change opens up the world of work to young minds – just at the age where they are beginning to develop their aspirations and ambitions. Not only does it educate students about the power of design in the world around them, it helps to break down gender stereotypes and preconceptions, and in this instance, actively demonstrates to young girls especially, that they can be the leaders of tomorrow.

I firmly believe that the only way we can redress, and ultimately eliminate, the gender imbalance in leadership roles is through empowering our youth. Community and education driven programmes like Make Shape Change gives young people a chance to share with one another and really speak their minds. The creativity, openness and honesty displayed in the groups I spoke with was both humbling and invigorating. Our own futures can actually be brighter if we support our young people and inspire them to shine their own light.

I would wholeheartedly encourage agencies to join me in supporting this programme in the new school year by nominating volunteers to participate, especially those in female leadership positions.

It’s essential that strong role models are not just visible at boardroom tables.

If you’d like to know more, please get at +353 1 478 9090.

To volunteer, please contact:

Tanya Quinn
Program Coordinator
Junior Achievement Ireland
+353 1 293 0210