September 02, 2016
Women on Walls: How did the project come about?
By: Dr. Michelle Cullen

Women on Walls is part of an Ireland CMD initiative to create a lasting and impactful cultural legacy to mark Ireland’s centenary year. The paintings will go on permanent public display in the main hall of Academy House, as a public statement of Accenture’s commitment to gender equality.

“Every single portrait in Academy House is of a man. And always has been.”

             We were meeting with the Royal Irish Academy about working together on a project to increase the numbers of girls in STEM and attracting STEM candidates to Accenture. Founded in 1785, the Academy is Ireland's leading body of experts in the sciences and humanities, and actively champions Irish academic research and promotes awareness of how the sciences and humanities enrich our lives and benefit society. Our meeting took place in the beautiful Academy House in Dawson Street, and on every wall we were surrounded by really powerful portraits of leaders in the sciences and humanities, both historical and contemporary. All men.

Towards the end of the meeting, Eithne Harley reflected on the fact that there were no women recognised the portraits, and made the connection that you “cannot be what you cannot see”. The ensuing conversations about how systemic and deep rooted inequality is, led to an idea to change what people see, to better represent the diversity of contributions in sciences and humanities – not just now, but in the past too, and very importantly into the future. We know from Accenture research that having diverse role models is important to developing an interest in STEM subjects among young women. Sometimes, we need to look through a new lens to see what’s right in front of us. Driving real change means changing the way we look at things, and it all starts with each one of us.

“Pictures are a really important part of how we create memories and pass stories on to future generations. When it comes to public portraits, while it is not necessarily intentional or conscious, if we leave women out, then the net effect is to perpetuate women being less visible, and their work being less known for future generations, less valued.”

This is a creative and disruptive way to change the conversation. We sometimes look at inequality in a fragmented way – we know women are underrepresented on Boards of companies, or in technology jobs, or in television and theatre. But when you step back and look at the big picture and see the same pattern, then we have to change how we think and see if we want to change that pattern. 

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