International Women’s Day 2021: Interview with mdgroup Executive Chair, Miriam Dervan
It was a realpleasure for me to speak to Miriam Dervan, Executive Chair of mdgroup, for International Women’s Day 2021.
mdgroup is the first female-owned business I’ve worked for in my 30-odd year career, and it’s genuinely an honour. I’ve been working for a long time now, and I’ve seen some absolutely phenomenal changes in terms of gender equality in the workplace. It makes me so happy to think that people like Miriam, and perhaps myself to an extent, have helped drive that change.
Personally, I am proud to see so many women in mdgroup at a leadership level. And those women inspire me every day. Their commitment and dedication to their jobs is amazing, especially with the homeschooling many of them had to deal with over this past year. I don’t know how they’ve done it, and I am in awe of what they’ve achieved.
Enjoy my conversation with Miriam, in which we discuss why we need more women in leadership, how much has changed for women in business over these past few decades, what gender equality means at mdgroup, and more.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s Day is an incredibly important day for us as women. We’ve been oppressed for so long through the years, and where we have come to now is amazing. There are CEOs who are women, there are women on boards. That wasn’t the case when I started back in the 80s. There has been remarkable change since then.
How quickly we’ve got to this point is fantastic, and that should be celebrated. Because that’s the tenacity we have, that’s the passion that we bring. And International Women’s Day should definitely be celebrated by women all over the world for what we have done so far. We have been amazing.
Why do you think we need more women in leadership?
Women, I believe, bring a balance to anything in life. Everything can’t be one-sided. When it is all men in boardrooms, in leadership, in higher positions, there isn’t that balance. Men tend to think practically. They’re very tactical, they rationalise, in their own practical way. But they don’t bring the human element. The human element is what women bring. Because we’re passionate, we bring empathy and understanding. Those qualities balance out an organisation in the same way they balance out a family. It’s incredibly important to have both parties at the table.
Women know how to motivate people, they know how to drive people, they know what motivates them, and I think that’s incredibly important. Having women in leadership roles adds a huge amount of value to any organisation.
What progress have you seen in gender equality in your life and your work?
There have been huge strides. Especially looking back on my mother’s day, in the 40s, 50s and 60s. She wasn’t allowed to work after she got married, I was born in the 60s and my mother was a stay-at-home mum. But now, in the western world, all women can work and it’s great to see the amount of women out there working. In my lifetime, to go from women not being allowed to work to where we are today, with women in CEO positions, on boards, running organisations – that’s amazing.
It’s brilliant to see the balance that’s coming in. Not only are women joining boards and participating in higher leadership levels and roles, men are also moving into what were traditionally classed as women’s roles. For example, we see more men working as nurses now, whereas years ago nurses were always women. It seems like the ‘his and hers’ roles – the boardroom full of men with women in more secretarial roles – all of that is gone now.
Have you ever faced discrimination at work?
It’s funny you ask me that question because maybe I’ve just been one of the lucky ones. I’ve found the men I’ve met in my working life to be very supportive. However, I do have two stories that I haven’t forgotten about over the years.
I started mdevents (which became mdgroup) in the back bedroom of my house 18 or 19 years ago, with my laptop, my telephone, and – dare I say it – a fax machine. I got my business cards printed with my telephone number, fax number and email, and I decided that my email address would be email@example.com. I chose .com rather than .co.uk because I knew our clients would be spread across the world and I’d be working on both sides of the pond.
When I went out to do some business development, I was chatting with this guy and I gave him my card. He looked at it and said: “Dotcom? Isn’t that big for you?” And I looked at him and I said: “Well actually, where I’m going, it’s not big enough.”
We started laughing about it, but I thought, wasn’t that comment so arrogant? It felt like a put-down, like I was a little woman. But I can look back on it now and laugh.
Then the most recent one. I bought a new car a couple of years ago. I bought it brand new, drove it out of the garage, delighted with myself. I go to Ireland multiple times a year and I bring my car, so I go on the boat. I was coming back from Dublin to Holyhead, and I was waiting in the queue with the customs officials wandering around. I saw this customs official coming over to me – a man – and I rolled down the window.
He asked me the usual questions: Where do you live? How long have you been in Ireland? Then he said to me: “Nice car, is it the husband’s?” I thought, pardon? So I just rolled up the window, having none of it.
So, those kinds of things I have come across. But I haven’t experienced discrimination to the point where I didn’t get a job because a man got it over me, or I was doing the same job as another man but he was getting a higher salary. I never really came across that in my working life, thankfully, and I found great support from men. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a lot of discrimination out there still.
Why is gender equality particularly important for mdgroup?
Being a woman, of course, I’m going to push for and support and want women in the organisation without a doubt. But we also need men. It’s very important to have the balance. For example, our CEO Tarquin and I work so well together because we look at things from different points of view, we respect and listen to each other, and it gives a great balance and a great view in the organisation. It’s so healthy and important to have a good balance like that in any company.
I love that we have so many women at a leadership level in mdgroup. It’s amazing to see all of those women come up through the ranks and get promoted. And the women we have working here are just extraordinary. They’ve been keeping their families going through a pandemic, some of them have very small babies, some have teenagers, and they are still giving their all to the company. And that, to me, without a doubt, is remarkable. I’m so proud of everyone who works for us.
What’s your International Women’s Day message?
Keep doing what we’re doing. We have made massive strides already. In my lifetime, my mother wasn’t able to work. Only 100 years ago, we didn’t even have the right to vote. Men and women have been on the planet for thousands of years, we have been oppressed for so long and we’ve come so far, it’s amazing.
We need to keep doing what we’re doing because, as the new generations come up behind us, they will see their grandmothers, mothers, aunts, female cousins, all in top jobs, and it will become the norm. There’ll be no talk about equality soon because it will be the norm as the next generations keep coming up.
We just need to keep influencing those young people who are coming up after us, and it will happen. We will get to a place where we won’t even be talking about equality because everybody will be the same. Let’s continue to be remarkable.