At the invitation of the UCD Smurfit MBA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Club, Dr Darren Thomas Baker and Executive MBA student Deirdre O’Grady Interviewed Melíosa O’Caoimh, Country head of Northern Trust and Chair of the 30% Club for an audience of MBA students. The three discussed Melíosa’s career journey to date as well as her views on gender balance within the workforce.
Having completed her undergraduate degree at UCD in Economics and Politics, Melíosa, like so many new graduates, was uncertain regarding what the next stage in her career should be. Little did she know at the time, a successful career in financial services awaited her. There was no better fit for someone who wanted to work in a business that brought about real change for people and impacted so many lives on a global scale.
Melíosa joined Northern Trust as her second role in Financial Services. At the time, the company was just starting out in Ireland, and employed approximately 80 people. Fast forward to now: Melíosa is Country Head with an employee network of 1800 staff managing over $600 billion in assets, and Ireland acts as a central hub attracting investment managers from all around the globe. Melíosa spoke passionately about her commitment to her career and how it affects so many people both nationally and globally. She feels privileged in her role to be part of something that is truly transformative.
Melíosa firmly believes that a strong work ethic coupled with ambition, resilience and an active curiosity are the key ingredients to successful career progression. She spoke about avoiding linear progression within your career, particularly in the early stages. She introduced the interesting concept of ‘meandering’ as you progress in order to gain exposure to many sectors within your organisation: this will equip you with a knowledge base that will add substance to your profile and offer greater opportunity to maximise your career potential.
No successful career proceeds without difficulties along the way. Melíosa spoke about her biggest obstacle: challenging people’s perception of her. She remarked on the amount of energy it took to prove to her colleagues that at work she was present and ready to give 100% despite being a mum of four children. She also experienced a small setback early in her career when she wasn’t offered a particular role. However, she turned this into an opportunity to prove to others that she had the capabilities and was worthy of the position when she was offered it two years later.
Melíosa strongly believes in the value of mentorship and sponsorship: ‘A lot of learning is self-navigation, you need to be the CEO of yourself’. In our careers, we often expect the right mentor to present themselves to us but the fact is that we need to seek them out based on our weaknesses. She also warns against underestimating the value of sponsorship. Everyone needs someone senior to vouch for them in order to get ahead in an organisation: ‘Having someone speak to you in the room is good, but what you need is someone who will speak about you when you leave the room’.
Melíosa strongly advocates achieving gender balance within the financial sector. She welcomed the new mandatory gender pay gap reporting agreement, focusing on the importance of the actions that will arise from it. She believes the main issue within top organisations is representation–however it is equally important that women are not used as a distraction for organisational issues within a company. Company leadership should focus on effective strategies for getting more women into senior roles, and should promote both gender equality and diversity. It is well established that businesses who achieve this make better decisions and perform better.
A conversation with Melíosa O’Caoimh offered novel insights, providing the UCD Smurfit students excellent advice on career progression. She is a visionary leader, a gifted spokesperson and above all else humble in the midst of her outstanding success–in all, a true inspiration.
—Eimear O’Reilly, UCD Smurfit Executive MBA Class of 2024