Getting the Balance Right!

29th May 2019

Posted In: Women Mean Business

Last week, the CSO released new statistics on Gender Balance in Business for 2019.

The survey, which was conducted for the first time, provides benchmark statistics on gender representation at the most senior levels in large enterprises (i.e. those with 250 or more employees). The results include a gender breakdown of Chairpersons, Boards of Directors, CEOs and Senior Executive teams.

Topline data shows that women occupy 12% of CEO positions, only 7% as Board Chairpersons, 20% of board membership and 28% of Senior Executive positions.

Commenting on the report, statistician Gerard Doolan said: “One-third (34%) of Senior Executive appointments within the last 12 months were women and two-thirds (66%) were men. For appointments to Boards of Directors within the last year, 30% were women.” He went on to say that foreign-owned companies reflected a higher representation of women than Irish-owned companies. “In Foreign-owned enterprises, the Senior Executive team was 31% female and the board 21% female. In Irish-owned enterprises, 26% of the Senior Executive team and 19% of the board were women.

Today (May 29th) Balance for Better Business launched its first report calling on Irish companies to rapidly address the low levels of female representation on their Boards.

The independent business-led review group, established by the Government to make recommendations on how more women can be involved in decision-making at the top level of businesses in Ireland, has outlined a series of ambitious targets and advice for Irish companies.

Balance for Better Business has set a target of at least 33% female directors for ISEQ 20 companies by the end of 2023, and 25% for all other Irish listed companies. ISEQ20 companies are the top 20 companies listed on Euronext Dublin. 

In addition, the group has set interim targets for each year so that companies can measure their progress against concrete annual milestones. It has also set a target that by the end of 2019, no company traded on the Euronext Dublin markets should have an all-male board.

Balance for Better Business, which was launched by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. in July 2018, is tasked with examining the gender mix within the governance and senior management of companies in Ireland and the issues which arise in connection with the appointment of company directors and senior management.

As it currently stands, 20.9% of ISEQ 20 directors and 12.1% of directors of other Irish listed companies are female. This amounts to an average of 16.4% women on the boards of all Irish listed companies. A total of 15 listed companies still have all-male boards.

Brid Horan, Co-Chair, Balance for Better Business, said: “The initial focus of Balance for Better Business has been on the boardrooms of publicly quoted companies and we will be extending our analysis and recommended targets to other companies and to executive levels in future reports. I’m pleased that progress has been achieved since the launch of the initiative, with the overall percentage of women on Irish publicly listed boards increasing in the last year from 14% to 16.4% and two ISEQ 20 companies appointing women to their boards for the first time. However, the momentum needs to accelerate and to be sustained for balance to be achieved, as Ireland has slipped further behind other EU member states in recent years. Business needs to address systematic deficits in culture, people development, selection and promotion processes and to create an environment for female participation at the highest levels, on boards and in executive leadership.”

Gary Kennedy, Co-Chair, Balance for Better Business, said: “We need to recognise the significant pool of qualified and experienced female talent that already exists but too often is overlooked in making key appointments. Women are the most under-utilised economic asset in the world and countries and businesses that recognise this are the ones who will do best in the world of tomorrow. We have had a robust debate on the merits of targets versus quotas and have elected, at this stage, to recommend targets. Now is the time for business leaders to take ownership of this issue, to take the lead by making progress at board and senior management levels. The key metrics of business performance are no longer simply financial ones; the culture and balance of a company and the wellbeing of those who work in it, lead to satisfied customers, and ultimately, shareholder reward.”

In response to the report, Maura Quinn, CEO, IoD Ireland, said: The truth of it is, we have not seen sufficient progress on the gender diversity of boards. IoD Ireland has been raising this issue for some time, and in our recent diversity research, we found a growing support for gender targets on boards. This support was across the board from both male and female directors. For this reason, the Better Balance for Better Business report and its recommendations are a welcome development”.

She went on to say: “While progress may not be a straight line, the targets outlined in this report provide a clear focus for boards, their directors and stakeholders, as well as a means of evaluating its progress on an annual basis. Board diversity is not just ‘a nice to have’, it’s about what is best for business. Board diversity allows for the best possible talent to be available, which in turn will help a business become even more commercially effective. It is imperative that we now heed this call to ensure there is real traction on this issue in the future”.

Helen Wycherley, President of Network Ireland, said: “We continually support having more female representation on company boards at Network Ireland. People can gain so much from it and at the same time give a little back. We know that boards are traditionally male-dominated places so we need to ensure that Boards focus on achieving balance. Not just gender but also age and backgrounds. It is great to see the government taking initiative on this through the Better Balance for Better Business body. Many females don’t think about going on Boards and the benefits are many. They can be a source of income, they will increase confidence and develop connections, they can allow you to give back and absolutely can allow you to make a difference in an area you are passionate about.”

Rosemary Delaney Founder of WMB – said: “I gained so much experience both on the Board of the Irish Press Council and more recently on the Board of InterTrade Ireland.  Yes, it’s time consuming on top of your daily business and personal demands.  However, the satisfaction of being able to help, of putting yourself that bit outside of your comfort zone, really pays dividends. It can be a steep learning curve, but as you gain more experience at this level, your confidence and inputs increase accordingly.  To know that there are still companies out there with an all-male board beggars belief. It’s high time that we say, ‘enough is enough’, a balanced board and balanced executive team is great for business, great for the bottom line, great for company morale.”