Harnessing Difference to Our Benefit - Gráinne McEvoy, Director of Consumer Protection

30 October 2019 Speech

Grainne McEvoy

Address by Gráinne McEvoy, Director of Consumer Protection, to “Our People, Our Future- Building a Diverse and Innovative Public Service” conference at The Printworks, Dublin Castle organized by DPER Reform and Delivery Office


Thank you to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) and the event organisers for the opportunity to address you today.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss how the Central Bank is harnessing difference for our collective benefit through the work we are doing on Diversity & Inclusion.

I will share with you this morning the importance we attach to this issue both in terms of how we run the Central Bank itself and at the firms we regulate and supervise.


Before I get into that I’d like to share something about my own career journey. I joined the Central Bank as a junior member when I was just 20 years old - I won’t say how long ago that was.

Back then, junior staff were often assigned only the less interesting work and were expected to be pretty deferential.

One of my own first assignments was a four month stint in the 9th floor of the old Central Bank Headquarters on Dame Street which was only accessible by ladder. My job was to wade through boxes and boxes of paper to ensure there was no incorrect reference to the Central Bank.  I recall incurring plenty of paper cuts to my hands not to mention damage to my clothes from climbing that ladder.

These days, our young recruits are not usually assigned such mundane tasks. On the contrary, we need them to be thinkers and creators working alongside their more experienced colleagues in diverse, inclusive and multi-disciplinary teams that can work together to tackle the often complex challenges that the Central Bank faces.

But where are we to find all those talented recruits?

The Central Bank’s own economic research shows that unemployment is low, the domestic labour market is tight and in the short term, growth in employment is likely to come from migration rather than domestic sources.

This is because in general there are relatively few people outside of the labour market or in unemployment who look like they could easily enter employment. Female labour force participation is steadily rising for all age groups between 25 and 70 and particularly for the prime working age groups – 25 to 55. And while youth employment is down, this is because many young people are in education instead, which is, of course, very positive.
So smart employers are turning their attention to inclusive recruitment and looking to attract more diverse talent at early stages of their careers as well as later on. 
And the Central Bank is no exception.

Our Graduate Programme provides structured training, support to complete further study and a dedicated mentor. And for the September 2019 intake of graduates, we also took steps to ensure gender balance in the shortlisting process resulting in a 50/50 offer ratio.


But Diversity & Inclusion is about far more important issues than simply expanding the pool of people from which companies can draw in order to fill key vacancies.
It is about changing the culture of the workplace and improving our collective performance.

It is no secret that the financial crash proved a catalyst for fresh thinking on Diversity & Inclusion as it is widely recognised that groupthink was a factor in the crisis.
In the ensuing years, there has been an intense regulatory focus on how best to harness differences for our collective benefit in order to prevent a repeat of the events of 2008.
At the Central Bank, we expect the firms we regulate and supervise to have strong governance and strategic oversight from their boards and management teams. And we expect the boards of those firms to take the lead by creating a diverse and inclusive environment.

That’s because the research suggests that organisational diversity and inclusion leads to better decision making, can bring greater innovation, better risk identification and risk management, more rounded strategies, and stronger partnerships with customers and stakeholders. 

Diversity of thought has been shown to reduce the risk of groupthink and the more diverse a team is, the more likely its predictive capability in the face of uncertainty. A mix of people with a variety of different backgrounds, education and perspectives  sparks innovation and results in high performing teams.


There is an old Chinese proverb that says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’’

When I joined the Central Bank back in 1997, there were no women in senior leadership positions. But things began to change in 2001 when the first female Head of Division was appointed.

Today women make up almost 50 per cent of our total workforce, one third of our board and over 40 per cent of our leadership team.

In 2018, we published the Central Bank’s Vision for Diversity & Inclusion which is to:

  • Have a diverse workforce reflecting society in Ireland
  • Harness difference to our  benefit
  • Be a thought leader on Diversity & Inclusion
  • Ensure our focus on Diversity & Inclusion has a positive impact on the behaviour of the financial services industry

The vision is supported by a comprehensive action plan and you will not be surprised to learn that a key action for us is to enhance the data we have on aspects of diversity – this is a challenge for most organisations and in the world of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an even greater one.

As part of our action plan, the Central Bank has led by example by publishing our Gender Pay Gap Report on our website, though we are not legally required to do so. Our gender pay gap stands at 2.4 per cent in favour of men. While this compares well with the gender pay gap elsewhere in Ireland and across the EU, we are not complacent.

I have been lucky enough to work in an organisation that has championed gender balance and merit based promotions for some time. It is no exaggeration to say that I stand in the shade of those trees planted 20 years ago. 

But I recognise that Diversity & Inclusion is about much more than gender balance. And I am therefore happy to report that the Central Bank is still in the business of planting new trees that will provide support for the next generation and help build an inclusive workplace for all.

Let me give you a few examples.

We are currently looking at the low take-up of parental leave among fathers in the Central Bank, despite the fact that many of our staff are fathers – some with young children. We want to open a conversation with them to find out why the take-up is low and what can be done to improve it.

We are also trying to enhance organisational flexibility, work-life balance and effectiveness for all our staff through our home working policy which we launched last year.

I sponsor the Central Bank’s Rainbow Employee Network.  A couple of years ago we ran focus groups to ask people in the Central Bank what their experiences were.
What I learned from this initiative was the importance of giving staff permission to be their true selves at work and to provide a forum to share experiences with colleagues through a supportive and inclusive organisation. 

This goes to the heart of my point about the power of conversations. Without open conversations, we risk assuming an awful lot about what others think and need.
The Central Bank has partnered with organisations such as the Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI) to help promote access to the labour market for people with disabilities by offering both placements and jobs.

As part of our social background diversity initiative, we have a scholarship programme which offers successful candidates the opportunity to take on a four year fixed term contract at the Bank while undertaking a fully funded part-time honours degree at Griffith College. This suits students who may want to - or need to earn - while they are studying and who would not ordinarily be in a position to attend college.

We also support our local community in the North East Inner City. This year we launched our first ‘bridging the gap’ programme. This is designed to give four people - who do not currently have the entry level requirements for third level - a funded post Leaving Certificate Course (PLC); an internal mentor with the Central Bank; and a paid summer placement. Those who complete the programme successfully are then short-listed for our scholarship scheme.


The Central Bank has come a long way in terms of Diversity & Inclusion and leaders play a vital role in this process by actively driving, sponsoring and enabling initiatives.
Back in 2017 our former Governor, Philip Lane, launched the Rainbow Network at an all-staff meeting - something that would have been unheard of a decade earlier. The Central Bank was one of the first public buildings to fly the rainbow flag and has participated in the Dublin Pride Parade for a couple of years. In fact this year, we were delighted to participate alongside over 600 public and civil service colleagues under the theme ‘Proud to work for Ireland’. 

Amongst our peer Central Banks we are considered one of a few front-runners in driving Diversity & Inclusion and we are happy to exchange our knowledge and experience with other public sector bodies as we are doing here today.

In 2018, we designed our own Leadership Development Programme – One Bank Leadership - with input from 40 internal bank leaders. As a result, our leaders feel they own it having had a hand in its creation and a greater stake in its success. Crucially, the programme has an important module on inclusive leadership including how we work together, how we make decisions and how we get things done.


The Central Bank has a very diverse mandate. This includes traditional Central Banking – currency, payments, financial markets, statistics and economic advice.

We also regulate more than 10,000 entities from both a  prudential and conduct perspective - including banks, insurance companies, funds and credit unions to name but a few.

We are gate-keepers in the sense that we have the power to grant or refuse to authorise a firm to carry out business or to refuse to approve a person to carry out a senior management role.

We are rule makers in terms of setting statutory codes and standards.
We are expert influencers who advise on both domestic and international regulatory policy.

We are inspectors and investigators.

We are sometimes judges, mediators, remediators and punishers in terms of our enforcement powers. We could not do our work without diverse teams with varied backgrounds. We need lawyers, experts in risk, cyber-security, fintech and many other areas that affect our economy, financial stability and consumers of financial services.
And we need them in fairly large numbers – at one stage in recent years we were the most prolific hirers of lawyers outside of the big law firms.


Like other directorates at the Central Bank, the Consumer Protection Directorate is in the business of engaging and influencing with diverse stakeholders – including consumer advocates, civic society, industry, media and political stakeholders. We challenge ourselves to think not just as regulators but also to put ourselves in the shoes of consumers and the wider public whose interests we serve. 

I have seen first-hand the benefit of having access to a wide range of skills, experiences and mind-sets to help us tackle complex consumer protection issues. I am thinking in particular of the multi-disciplinary teams that drove our Tracker Mortgage Examination which has delivered almost €700 million in redress and compensation to customers who were wrongly denied a tracker mortgage or put on the wrong rate.

As part of our regulatory role, we challenge the financial services industry on their gender balance, their broader diversity and their culture, notably in our report on the Behaviour and Culture of the Irish retail banks which we published last year at the request of the Minister for Finance.

As a public sector organisation, we must also practice what we preach. This is why Diversity & Inclusion is firmly embedded in our current strategic plan and baked into our day-to-day practices and thinking.

Financial services is changing rapidly and technology is driving that change. Not only are we seeing new ways of delivering products but we are also seeing new types of challenger/disruptor firms including technology companies competing with more traditional financial services providers.

Increasingly we have to innovate to be effective – in order to regulate a sector where innovation is the order of the day. 

The most recent example of this was the launch in September of our Unity Big Data project, which created one single master data system from disparate sources/platforms. This system will help us to identify trends, links and risks across different areas that we regulate and supervise. It was the culmination of collaboration between colleagues in IT, and across numerous regulatory divisions, supported by expert programmers and change managers.


While we have come a long way on the Diversity & Inclusion journey, I am constantly reminded that there is a lot more to do. I was struck, for instance, by the work of author Caroline Criado Perez, who has drawn attention to the serious consequences that can flow when experts view the world through too narrow a lens.

She has described, for instance, how women are more likely than men to die from a heart attack. It turns out that the classical symptoms on which doctors rely for diagnostic purposes are based on male symptoms and that due to a gender data gap, women’s symptoms have been under-described and are therefore not as quickly recognised.
She has also highlighted how crash-test dummies based on the ‘average’ male put women’s lives at risk because they don’t account for women’s measurements.

These are just some the many examples of how systems design based on assumptions and unconscious bias can lead to poor outcomes for citizens and customers.
I would like to think that as leaders of public sector organisations, we can adapt our organisations and thinking to correct for such systems flaws and unconscious bias in order to better meet the needs of the public we serve in the future.

What better way to start that by being diverse and inclusive in our own hiring practices and how we run our own organisations.

Thank you