Aongus Hegarty and Julie Sinnamon holding the Balance For Better Business report standing outside on a tree-lined avenue.
Aongus Hegarty and Julie Sinnamon. Image: Balance For Better Business

30pc target for women on ISEQ 20 boards surpassed this year

13 Dec 2021

While progress has been made at the board level in Ireland, the ‘real challenge’ is in achieving balance in leadership roles.

The target to have 30pc women on the boards of ISEQ 20 companies this year has been surpassed. The top publicly listed companies in Ireland now have women making up nearly one-third (31pc) of their boards, according to a new report.

The report was launched today (13 December) by Balance For Better Business, a review group set up by the Government in 2018 to achieve greater gender balance at board and senior level within Irish businesses.

The group’s fourth report said that the percentage of women on boards of the ISEQ 20 companies had risen from 18pc to 31pc this year, and it is now hopeful that the 2023 target of 33pc will also be surpassed.

As of November 2021, Ireland had moved up to 12th position from 17th on the list of women on company boards for the largest companies in the EU. Just under half (42pc) of ISEQ 20 listed companies now have more than three women board members.

However, there are still challenges to overcome. For other listed companies, the percentage of women on boards is now at 20pc, just hitting the target set for the end of 2021 and up from 9.6pc in 2018. For large Irish companies, the percentage of women on boards is 22pc, missing the 23pc target set for this year.

There are also still five listed companies with all-male boards, despite the Government’s aim for there to be none.

Balance For Better Business co-chair Julie Sinnamon said the group wants to “put gender balance on the agenda of every Irish company and make Ireland a more gender-balanced economy”.

Sinnamon, who recently stepped down as Enterprise Ireland CEO, added that while work remains to be done at the board level, the “real challenge is in achieving balance at leadership level in organisations”.

While ISEQ 20 companies exceeded their 2021 target for the representation of women at senior leadership level, other listed companies and large Irish-owned private companies both missed their targets.

Last year, Balance for Better Business warned companies across the country were on track to fail against the voluntary 2023 targets that it had set for women in leadership roles. The 2020 report also claimed there was a “serious gender imbalance” among senior leadership teams in Ireland.

“We will continue to highlight how proactive talent management and succession planning provide pathways for business to facilitate change in their own organisations,” Sinnamon said.

“A strong and robust pipeline of future female leaders influences the shape of future leadership teams and boards. This will provide sustainable, long-term change, in a way that continuing to place too much emphasis on recruiting women to boards cannot.”

Sinnamon’s co-chair, Aongus Hegarty, recommended that companies treat gender balance “like any other business objective,” setting a plan and monitoring it. He said companies should report on their progress to “achieve transparency and accountability” as this would indicate to potential talent and customers that they understand and value “a more diverse and inclusive” workforce.

Progress made

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman, TD, welcomed the report and the “positive steps” in terms of gender equality on boards and leadership teams.

Mandatory gender pay gap reporting will be introduced in Ireland in 2022, and O’Gorman said this will “encourage Irish businesses to look beneath the figures, to establish the root cause or causes for any pay disparity between men and women and bring about a cultural change where needed”.

Campaign group the 30% Club also welcomed the report and the progress that had been made in terms of representation on boards. The Irish chapter of the 30% Club was set up in 2015 when the gender balance across the boards of the ISEQ 20 stood at 12pc.

“We very much welcome the significant progress made in this area over the last several years, and regard 30pc as the floor and not a ceiling,” said Rachel Hussey, chair of the 30% Club in Ireland. “While there is advancement at board level, we need to see improvements in women being appointed to senior management teams, as this is where most practical impact can be affected within a business.”

Hussey also announced a new initiative to connect highly qualified women interested in board roles with those responsible for improving gender balance in board appointments for listed, private and State bodies across Ireland.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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