While the signs are positive, Ireland still has a long way to go to bridge the gap and get more women on boards.

With International Women’s Day taking place this past weekend, it’s a good time to celebrate the success of women in senior positions and at boardroom level in workplaces across Ireland.

The percentage of women on company boards in Ireland increased to 21 per cent (pc) in 2019, with 26 new women appointed to non-exec boards, bringing the total number to 95, indicating a 4pc increase on the previous year’s figure.

“The dial is moving in the right direction, but it’s clear that women continue to face barriers to success”

However, more worryingly, some 35pc of Irish listed companies currently have no female directors on their board. Comparing this to the UK, Ireland falls behind our nearest neighbour, where 27.5pc of FTSE 250 board positions are now held by women.

% of Women on Boards in Ireland 2019

2013

2017

2018

2019

8%

15%

17%

21%

Bridging the gap and getting more women into decision-making roles has been a major challenge for Irish firms, but there is a strong impetus among policy makers to embrace initiatives that empower and promote women in the corporate sphere.

Globally, women hold just 4.4pc of CEO positions and just 12.7pc of CFO roles. Since these roles are often what propels executives into board seats, increasing the number of women in the C-suite will be crucial to increasing the number of women on corporate boards.

“Ireland is still considerably off the target put forward by the European Commission which proposed a 40pc objective for women on boards by 2020”

Discussing the issue, Caroline Baldwin, partner at Accreate said; “Our most recent research shows a moderately encouraging trend. Since 2013, when Accreate started monitoring gender balance on Irish boards, we have moved from 8pc participation to 21pc. The dial is moving in the right direction, but it’s clear that women continue to face barriers to success, and too few of them get to fulfil their potential as leaders.

“Ireland is still considerably off the target put forward by the European Commission which proposed a 40pc objective for women on boards by 2020. A target that only France has managed to achieve to date. Despite a huge focus on diversity in the corporate world and an impression given that diversifying the make-up of our leadership teams is an area of priority, the results continue to indicate otherwise.”

Ms Baldwin went on to say that there is a conservative approach from executive head-hunters when it comes to the selection process, and that qualified women are being “overlooked” as a result.

“There are countless board ready, experienced female leaders primed to take on their first board appointments and add real value and fresh perspective. They are being overlooked as they may not have had prior board experience.

“This is the old chicken and egg dilemma. Research shows companies with diverse boards outperform others so we would encourage public limited companies to broaden their perspectives when seeking to make these critical board appointments,” she concluded.

While the EU has been attempting to boost the number of women sitting on boards over the last decade, it’s clear that there is a long way to go until this issue has been fully addressed.

By Stephen Larkin

Published: 9 March, 2020

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