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Siobhan Moriarty, Diageo General Counsel on Championing Women in Business

Our General Counsel, Siobhan Moriarty, has been featured in the 2017 FT and HERoes ‘50 Female Champions of Women in Business’ list. We took the opportunity to sit down and chat with her about her career path, inspiration and the importance of gender diversity.

Feature

Tell us a bit about your career path.
I started my career as a lawyer back home in Ireland. I decided to move to London to broaden out my experience and only intended to stay a few years, but have been here ever since! Prior to joining Diageo, I worked at London law firm Clifford Chance for seven years.

I joined what would soon become Diageo plc in 1997 and worked as legal counsel on the Guinness and Grand Metropolitan merger. It was such an exciting time for the company. Since then, I have had a number of roles including General Counsel Europe, Regional Counsel Ireland and Corporate M&A Counsel.

I was appointed General Counsel Diageo plc in 2013.

What does it mean to you to be an effective leader?
Being an effective leader is really about being a master of building relationships with all levels of business. A strong leader stays true to who they are and recognises the strength in individuals’ differences. They also know how to bring the best out of these differences allowing everyone to grow and be themselves - that is when diversity and inclusion happens.

One of my most significant achievements in business has been to be an effective female leader at Diageo and be able to contribute to and progress our diversity and inclusion agenda.

Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
My mother has always inspired me. She was a teacher back in the 1960’s and 1970’s and was part of the first generation of female civil servants who weren’t forced to retire when they married, so she didn’t. It was quite unusual for her day. I was one of six children and she continued to teach until she retired. She was definitely the only mother out of my group of school friends’ mums who worked. As a family, we accepted our situation as “the norm” and just got on with it.

The other person who really inspired me was my history teacher at school. He was so passionate about what he did that he taught us topics that weren’t even on the curriculum, like the Russian revolution. He later became an independent socialist TD (Ireland’s equivalent of MP) for inner city Dublin. I didn’t agree with his politics, but he really broadened my horizons and my interest in history, current affairs and politics.

What do you think are some of the barriers to gender diversity and how do we overcome them?
Unconscious bias – and more so women unconsciously putting limits on themselves. Not to generalise, but I see a lot of women think that because they don’t have the all the skills or experience needed for a role, they can’t do it, so they take themselves out of the running. This was something the Hampton-Alexander review pointed out last year and referred to it as a confidence gap, with men being over confident and women under confident in their abilities.

Everyone, EVERYONE has a role to play in achieving gender diversity. Business leaders and managers need to encourage women to take on bigger roles and provide them with the support they need. And we need to encourage women to be brave, back themselves and say yes more often.

I also believe we need to instil this belief and encourage girls at primary and secondary school not to count themselves out. Research has suggested that girls as young as five associate cleverness with the opposite sex. So, I really believe that we need to be doing more to encourage girls early on in life to be confident and pursue their goals. We need to encourage them to take STEM subjects, put themselves forward for opportunities and believe that one day they can be leading a FTSE 100 or even a FTSE 10 company.

And finally, what advice would you give to young women and men who have aspirations to become business leaders?
Be yourself and do something you really want to do, what gives you energy. Be courageous and aim high and turn the knocks along the way into lessons you can grow from.