From WoW to WomanUp – the back story
In 2015, WomanUp’s three founders—Clodagh Hughes, Carol Bolger and Aileen O’Toole – were involved in the establishment of WoW, a voluntary female leadership initiative. They were members of its Steering Group, which also included Patricia Doherty and Florence Stanley.
Clodagh was WoW’s instigator. In mid-2015, she assembled a group of senior professional woman in a Dublin city centre boardroom to discuss the slow pace of change in women moving into senior roles. She challenged them to work with her on a solution. So WoW was born as a voluntary initiative and set out to achieve two primary objectives:
The barriers to female leadership: the launch video for WoW
Run a leadership programme for high potential females who are at the mid stage of their careers, a point where the leadership pipeline is recognised to be at its weakest
Publish a report or research on overcoming the barriers to female leadership
What WoW did?
WoW devised a year-long programme based on authoritative research about what would be most beneficial for women at the critical mid-career stage. The participants were 27 women in corporate roles who showed leadership potential and under the WoW programme they:
Planned their careers
Were mentored by 27 senior female executives from outside their organisations
Sought sponsors within their organisations
Participated in a series of development workshop to build their leadership and other skills.
WoW’s second objective morphed into the publication of #WomanUp, an action plan on female leadership which was launched in November 2017 thanks to the generous support of stockbroking firm Davy. It drew on our leanings from the programme, insights from a research project undertaken by six HR Master’s graduates from UCD’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and also interviews we conducted with business and academic leaders.
The #WomanUp plan outlined a model for effecting changes and actions across the three levers in that model – leaders, culture, and women. The action plan won plaudits from across the business community and also favourable commentary on both traditional and social media. We had several approaches from business figures about the potential to transition what we had done with WoW into a business proposition.
What happened next?
Firstly, the WoW founders had to catch their collective breaths. WoW had been an exciting but also a somewhat exhaustive journey, as it was all done on a voluntary basis while we also juggled work and family commitments.
We considered all options but struggled to develop a sustainable model as a voluntary entity because of the enormous personal commitments involved. We came to the collective decision that another model was needed to ensure that the work started in WoW has a lasting impact.
Consequently, we took a joint decision to wind up WoW as a voluntary initiative. Three members of the founding team – Clodagh, Carol and Aileen – decided to regroup and create a commercial entity based on WoW (unsurprisingly, called WomanUp). They did so with the blessing of the two other WoW co-founders, Patricia and Florence.
In transitioning to this new model and of the launch of WomanUp as a business, we want to continue to harness the goodwill of senior female leaders and the spirit of volunteerism which were at the heart of WoW.