“Women could leverage more from their networks” Kirsty McManus, Nations Director for Northern Ireland and Wales, IoD

Kirsty McManus is the IoD’s Nations Director for Northern Ireland and Wales and the brains behind our influential Women’s Leadership Conference. Here she talks about overcoming dyslexia, working in Silicon Valley, corporate therapy and leveraging networks.

I am where I am because of my network. Relationships are so important in your career and women are great at forming these bonds, but not so good at leveraging them. I’m not talking about exploiting your network but contributing to it and occasionally asking for something back. Men are more strategic about their careers and I see them asking one another for support all the time. Women don’t do this, but they should.

School was a bit of a struggle for me until my GCSE Business teacher recognised my potential and encouraged me to aim higher. I was diagnosed with dyslexia quite late which explains a lot. Now I see it as a super power because it helps me problem-solve creatively.

Straight after my degree in IT, I moved to California at the height of the dot.com boom. It was exciting and I learned a lot and was quickly promoted. When I realised IT wasn’t for me and I moved into a marketing operations role. The US employment market is flexible if you bring a positive attitude so it wasn’t difficult to make this switch and I joined Vistage, a CEO membership organisation, as Director of Marketing Operations.

I benefitted from strong female role models in the US and recognised the benefits of coaching, which I still find invaluable. I call it corporate therapy. It’s helpful to have someone outside my workplace who can challenge and provide an impartial insight.

After fourteen years, the fragility of employment in the US began to bother me. You have to be really tough to be a working woman in America – three months maternity leave, expensive health insurance and only ten days holiday. I took the decision to return to Northern Ireland where I appreciate the benefits that all staff enjoy here. I know it’s not perfect, but we’re getting there.

I’m a great believer in lifelong learning so I took the opportunity to complete an MBA at this stage. In the last few years I’ve also taken the IoD Certificate and Diploma and I don’t intend to stop there. Training ensures we have the tools we need at every stage of our careers and means organisations can develop inclusive and diverse workforces without being tokenistic. I encourage women to find a way to invest in themselves – in my conversations with men they always seem to find a way to get the business to pay.

At the IoD, I see myself as a conduit for members and a figurehead among government and business communities in NI and Wales. I am committed to building a more inclusive and diverse membership base and the NI Women’s Leadership Conference is part of that process.

The Women’s Leadership Conference is about female role models and we’ve had some amazing speakers, from Erin Brockovich and Liz Earle to Dr Jean Goodall. The vibe is supportive and inclusive and we encourage everyone to be open and authentic. It’s vital to recognise how far women have come. We track the success of our speakers and take a moment to celebrate these successes at the conference.

During the pandemic we pivoted the conference online and more than doubled our delegates. However, in 2023 I’m looking forward to returning to an in-person event. Many people tell me its their ‘mental health’ day and I’m looking forward to the physical connection and atmosphere.

Perhaps most importantly, the conference is an opportunity to build connections and form networks. Women are brilliant at getting to know one another, now we need to learn to drive value from these relationships. Men have been doing it for years and it’s time for women to do the same.

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