Women in leadership are sitting by a window in a boardroom.
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Report: Ireland will ‘spectacularly miss’ women in leadership targets

16 Dec 2020

Despite some progress towards gender balance on boards and in leadership, Balance for Better Business reports that Irish companies aren’t likely to achieve its 2023 equality targets.

A new report from Balance for Better Business published today (16 December) claims that “serious gender imbalance” persists among senior leadership teams in Ireland.

It adds that companies across the country are on track to fail against the voluntary targets that it has set, which is aiming for senior leadership teams in ISEQ 20 companies to be 30pc women and in other listed companies to be 25pc women by the end of 2023.

This year’s target was for ISEQ 20 companies’ senior leadership teams to be 20pc women. While these companies exceeded that target on average, their individual progress is lacking, according to the report.

Balance for Better Business is a Government initiative led by co-chairs Brid Horan, former deputy chief executive of ESB and a co-founder of the 30% Club Ireland, and Gary Kennedy, formerly the group finance director for AIB. It was launched in 2018 and is supported by companies and organisations such as BNY Mellon, Dell, Ibec, IDA, Enterprise Ireland.

Women on boards

While progress has been made on company boards, only 27pc of all new appointments in the past year were women. That marks a decrease from the 50pc figure seen between March and September in 2019. Additionally, no women were appointed to executive director roles in the 18 months up to September 2020.

Although ISEQ 20 firms on average have already achieved the 2021 target for women on boards (27pc), that average figure “masks mixed results”, according to the report.

As of 1 September 2020, eight ISEQ 20 companies had all-men boards and five of these appointed new directors, all of which were men. The report describes this as a “particularly disappointing refusal to take the opportunity for change”.

‘By excluding women, businesses are ignoring the talent of half of the population’

It adds that other listed companies are “much further behind” and many of these are unlikely to meet either board or senior leadership targets for 2020.

However, there has also been progress. When Balance for Better Business was launched in 2018, just 14pc of board members for listed companies were women. In 2020, that figure has grown to more than 22pc.

Five companies also reached or exceeded the 40pc balance target: AIB, CPL, CRH, Bank of Ireland and Ryanair. Ireland’s EU ranking for board equality also improved this year, moving from 17th to 13th place.

Women in leadership

ISEQ 20 companies are also doing better than other listed companies in terms of senior leadership. According to Balance for Better Business, the number of women in senior leadership in these companies increased from 16.9pc last year to 22.2pc this year, exceeding the 2020 target of 20pc.

Other listed companies only reached 15.9pc, however, failing to meet their target of 18pc. While 59pc of senior leadership appointments for ISEQ 20 firms were women, that figure was 29pc for other listed companies.

The report adds that the target of all listed companies having at least one woman on their senior leadership team by the end of 2020 “will be spectacularly missed”. Almost two out of five (38pc) listed companies still have no women on their senior leadership team.

‘Disappointing’ results for 2020

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, commented on the report: “There is still insufficient representation of women in executive director roles and the appointment rate of women to boards remains disappointing.

“By excluding women, businesses are ignoring the talent of half of the population. This cannot continue. Not only because it is wrong, but because more diverse leadership yields better results.”

Horan said that Balance for Better Business is now calling on Irish companies to “urgently address the serious gender imbalance that persists” among senior leadership teams.

“Unless these issues are tackled, many companies will fall spectacularly short of these voluntary targets and more prescriptive steps may be needed to achieve balance, as has happened in several other countries.”

Kennedy added that the business case for gender-balanced business leadership on boards and in executive management is “well proven and accepted” and remains important amid the challenges posed by Covid-19.

“Benefits to business include improved financial performance, better response to customer needs, accessing the widest talent pool and improving both company culture and governance. Strong business leadership is essential if Ireland is to secure these benefits and drive our recovery.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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