Inside Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan for Women in Business

14 Jan 2020

From left: Dr Nora Khaldi, Minister Heather Humphreys, and Julie Sinnamon. Image: Luke Maxwell/

Here’s how Enterprise Ireland plans to improve gender diversity in Irish business.

Last Tuesday (7 January), Enterprise Ireland launched the 2020 Action Plan for Women in Business along with its annual report.

Following years of initiatives to increase gender diversity in business in Ireland, this latest strategy takes a broader approach and includes plans to increase the number of women in strategic management positions.

Why do we need it?

As well as simply ensuring equal representation for half the population, the Action Plan for Women identifies significant gender gaps in business that need bridging.

Ireland, for example, has the highest gender gap in self-employment in the entire EU. Women represent 30pc of senior managers in organisations, less than 20pc of CEOs (or just 9pc in larger companies) and a mere 3pc of angel investors.

On the investment side, less than 10pc of VC funding is going to companies with women founders and, overall, Enterprise Ireland cites a 12pc gender gap in labour force participation.

Citing sources such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and the International Labour Office, the 2020 Action Plan attests that companies with gender diversity in senior positions see increased profitability, better performance on investments, increased ability to attract and retain talent, greater creativity and innovation, an enhanced company reputation, and an improved ability to gauge customer interest and demand.

What are the objectives?

In total, the plan comprises four main objectives, each with six associated actions.

These objectives are:

  1. Increase the number of women-led companies growing internationally
  2. Increase the number of women in middle and senior management and leadership roles in Irish companies
  3. Increase the number of women becoming entrepreneurs
  4. Increase the number of women-led start-ups with high growth potential

Crucially, this latest initiative doesn’t focus solely on creating new women entrepreneurs. Although that is a part of the strategy, the aims are higher and more about increasing gender diversity in business across the board.

What actions will be taken?

Of the 24 key actions outlined in the report, a number focus on financial supports for women in business. These include engaging financial institutions to deliver an accessible and inclusive funding landscape, exploring proposals for finance to support scaling companies led by women, and evaluating the potential of establishing a women-focused seed investment group.

Enterprise Ireland will also launch a grant to support the recruitment of part-time senior managers. “We believe this will attract a lot of female talent back into the workplace,” said Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon, while specifying that the grant itself won’t be limited to roles for women.

Another action intends to help more women to become not just founders, but mentors and investors, too. This feeds neatly into another theme emerging in the action plan: role modelling. Campaigns will be built to showcase women leaders and entrepreneurs who have seen success. This will be in addition to the establishment of a national network and opportunities to engage one to one with others who have paved the way.

“It’s about putting a spotlight on role models,” said Sinnamon, pointing out the location selected for plan’s launch: Nuritas, founded by Dr Nora Khaldi. “I don’t think there’s a better role model in the country of a female-led, really innovative start-up. And that’s what we’re trying to get more of.”

The plan also includes two actions aimed at leveraging the potential of research-based start-ups. A series of funding calls targeting women entrepreneurs and women researchers from third-level institutions can be expected, as well as a pilot initiative to include women leaders and senior managers in project teams spinning out from third-level institutions.

Other actions will target diversity on boards and women’s participation in leadership development, and an effort will be made to ensure this plan has an impact countrywide by collaborating with Local Enterprise Offices.

What will success look like?

The Action Plan for Women in Business forms part of Future Jobs Ireland, a whole-of-Government framework aimed at preparing Irish business for the near future.

Through to 2025, Enterprise Ireland hopes to have doubled the number of women-led companies growing internationally as well as the participation rate of women in its management development programmes.

It also hopes to see a 50pc increase in both the number of women participants on start-up programmes and the supports from Local Enterprise Offices to women in business. Finally, the five-year plan aims for a 30pc increase in the proportion of female-founded high-potential start-ups.

“We want to see more women involved in business because it makes better sense,” said Heather Humphreys, TD and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

“The good news is that it’s actually good for companies to have more women involved because research is showing that if you have more women involved in your company at senior management roles, you’re going to have a more profitable company.”

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.