Ireland sees a fall in number of women in senior roles

Ireland still slightly ahead of global average despite year-on-year drop in number of women in senior management roles.

There has been a drop in the number of women in senior management roles recorded in the past year.

That’s according to the Women in Business report from Grant Thornton which found that just 36% of Irish businesses reported women in senior management roles in 2024.

“The drop in the number of women in senior management roles in Ireland over the past year is disappointing, to say the least”

The findings reflect a 10% drop from the previous year when 40% of firms recorded women in senior management roles.

While the figures are disappointing through a year-on-year lens, they demonstrate significant progress in the drive towards gender equality in the past decade, more than doubling from the 16% recorded in the 2014 Women in Business Report.

Although Ireland may be performing better than the 2024 global average of 33.5% it highlights that progress has been slow and global parity will not be achieved until 2053 at this rate.

“The drop in the number of women in senior management roles in Ireland over the past year is disappointing, to say the least,” said Sinead Donovan, partner and chair of Grant Thornton Ireland.

“My concern is that this may not just be a blip in the system and now more then even is when C-suite leaders need to review their policies and processes to ensure we see a return to achieving more women being appointed to senior management roles.”

Pathway to Parity

Coinciding with International Women’s Day, Grant Thornton has released “Pathways to Parity: 20 Years of Women in Business Insights”, marking two decades of dedicated research aimed at monitoring and measuring the representation of women in senior management roles within mid-market companies worldwide. 

The report identifies three clear pathways for businesses to accelerate progress towards gender parity in senior management: assigning responsibility for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) to both a C-suite member and a female senior leader; implementing a standalone DE&I strategy with measurable goals; and offering flexible working arrangements.

Firstly, who leads and is responsible for DE&I is key for increasing the percentage of senior management roles held by women.  For every senior management role that leads on DE&I, the percentage of women in senior management positions increases when a member of the C-suite of any gender leads alongside a senior female leader. When a CEO of any gender combines with a senior female leader, 38% of senior roles are held by women. The best combination is when a CIO leads on DE&I alongside a female senior leader, with the percentage of women in senior management rising to 39%.

Secondly, to achieve parity of women in senior management roles, businesses must have a DE&I strategy in place. The most successful strategy focuses on DE&I alone, independent of a broader ESG strategy. Mid-market firms with a DE&I strategy but no ESG strategy have the highest percentage of senior management roles held by women (38%) – slightly more than businesses with both a DE&I strategy and an ESG strategy (36%). If businesses do not have a DE&I or ESG strategy, the percentage drops to 28%.

The final pathway to parity is the ability to work flexibly. There has been a dramatic shift back to office-based working among global mid-market firms in the past 12 months. 47% of businesses are now primarily office-based (compared to 36% last year) and 45% are hybrid (compared to 53% last year). This is potentially being driven by male CEOs – 50% of businesses with a male CEO are predominantly office-based, compared to 40% of female-led businesses. Businesses in which workers are primarily office-based are the only ones where the percentage of women in senior management roles drops below the global benchmark.

Donovan urges businesses to heed the call for action and seize the opportunity to drive meaningful change. As the global economy evolves, focusing on gender parity is essential to ensure a prosperous and equitable future for all.

“Diversity at all levels is needed in leadership to ensure that companies have a full depth and breadth of views; life experiences and styles. 

“We are now seeing businesses respond with a sense of urgency to ESG compliance and reporting, and rightly so. Diversity is key to this and we need to see this being mirrored in boardrooms to ensure leadership gender parity.  This is benefit not just business but will have a wider societal impact,” Donovan said.

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