Just 18pc of Irish businesses have a female board member

7 Mar 2014

Fewer than one in five large Irish businesses have a female board member – below the EU average, new research by Grant Thornton for International Women’s Day tomorrow reveals.

Support for the use of quotas to boost the number of women on the boards of large listed companies has fallen in the past year, according to the research.

The data gathered for the report, entitled Women in Business: From Classroom to Boardroom, shows 31pc of Irish executives surveyed are in favour of quotas, compared to 37pc last year. Ireland’s increasingly negative view on quotas runs counter to global trends, where the EU average in favour of quotas has risen to 41pc (33pc in 2013), and globally to 45pc (37pc in 2013).

Just 18pc of Irish boards have a female member, according to the survey, up from 17pc last year, and below the EU average but in line with global norms. The European Commission has a set a target for listed companies to have 40pc female board representation by 2020.

Progress has been made on women’s representation in senior-management positions, which is now at a five-year high of 23pc, and up from 21pc in 2013. Only 8pc of companies surveyed have plans to proactively hire more women into senior management roles this year.

Rooted in the past

“There is a reduced appetite in Ireland for the use of quotas and positive discrimination as a means to improve women’s representation in business,” said Sinead Donovan, partner at Grant Thornton.

“With just 18pc of board roles filled by women there is little or no chance of Ireland hitting the level targeted by the European Commission by 2020. Personally, I have mixed feelings about quotas – if they shine a spotlight on the shortfall of women on boards then that is helpful, but we certainly do not want to get to a point where women are simply brought in to make up the numbers.”

Areas in which businesses could do more to help working women include:

·      Supportive environment for working mothers: Continue progress on availability of flexible working arrangements, which are now offered by 71pc of companies (53pc in 2013)

·      Improved mentoring: Widen availability of mentoring programmes for women: just 4pc of companies surveyed have implemented programmes to support women’s progress

·      More women graduates: Companies should continue to boost their intake of female graduates and universities should do more to even out the gender mix in science and maths courses

“There are no simple solutions, but increasing support for working mothers and enhanced opportunities for female graduates are likely to play a crucial role in making sure that we have more women coming through in younger age cohorts to take senior positions,” Donovan said.

“That greater diversity in decision-making produces better outcomes is no longer up for debate. For businesses, better decisions mean stronger growth, so it is in their interests to facilitate the path of women from the classroom to the boardroom.”

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Today, we kick off the campaign’s second year. Let’s change the ratio.

Female executive image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years