30% of all Senior Executives in Ireland in 2021 were Women – CSO Survey Reveals

12th July 2021

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The Gender Balance in Business Survey aims to provide statistics on gender representation in top management teams and boards of directors in Ireland. This second iteration of the survey asked large enterprises (250 or more employees) to provide information on the members of both their Senior Executive team and Board of Directors on 1st January 2021. Nearly 700 enterprises were surveyed online with 67% of those completing the survey.


The survey reports that:

•One in eight (13%) Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) in large enterprises in Ireland in 2021 were women.

•Three in ten (30%) Senior Executives were female compared to seven in ten (70%) for male.

•More than seven in ten (72%) Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) were male.

•Men accounted for 86% of Board Chairpersons, down from 93% in 2019.

•Almost 22% of members of Boards of Directors were female, an increase from 20% in 2019.

Senior Executives

Almost three in ten (29%) Senior Executives in Irish-owned enterprises in 2021 were female compared to 26% in 2019. Similarly, three in ten (30%) of Senior Executives in Foreign-owned enterprises in both 2019 and 2021 were female.

Two-thirds of appointments to Senior Executive posts within the past two years were from within the enterprise and one third of such positions were filled externally. The gender breakdown shows that a higher share of external appointments (43%) went to female Senior Executives compared to 33% of internal appointments.


Boards of Directors 

The composition of Boards of Directors of large enterprises in Ireland in 2021 was 78% male and 22% female. This compares to 80% male and 20% female in 2019. Of the Directors who have served on the board for 1-2 years, 33% were female. This has increased from 20% reported in the previous publication in 2019. Of the Directors appointed 5 or more years ago, 17% were female and 84% male.

Three in ten (30%) of all female board members have been on the board for 1-2 years while 13% were on the board for less than a year. Less than one-tenth (8%) of male Directors were appointed in the past year. Directors with five or more years board membership accounted for 58% of all male directors and 42% of all female directors.


Female representation of Board Chairpersons in large enterprises in Ireland increased to 14% in 2021 from 7% in 2019. For appointed Chairpersons who were on the board for less than one year, 21% were female and 79% were male. More than a quarter (27%) of Chairpersons who were on the board for 1-2 years were female. For appointed Chairpersons who were on the board for more than five years, the percentage of male appointees was 89%

Enterprises with at least 40% female representation

In 2021, 29% of enterprises had 40% or more female representation at Senior Executive level. The Services sector had the highest proportion of enterprises with this level of female representation with 36% while 31% of Wholesale and retail trade firms had 40% or more female representation. Almost 15% of Industry & Construction enterprises had 40% or more female representation in executive management.

Almost one in five (18%) enterprises had at least 40% female representation on their Board of Directors. A quarter of Service enterprises had met this target compared with just 7% of enterprises in Industry & Construction.

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Network Ireland has welcomed CSO figures showing female representation at chairperson level among large Irish companies almost doubled in the past 2 years.  Measured at 7.4% in 2019, the statistics show the figure jumped to 14% in 2021. Reacting to the news, President of Network Ireland Aisling O’Neill said:

“This is hugely encouraging for women today – particularly considering the upheaval of the past 18 months and a series of reports showing women’s working lives have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

We know that visible role models are vitally important and I’d like to congratulate these women taking on chairperson roles in their companies for all they’re doing to advance their careers and thereby encourage others.

They are key to fulfilling the promise of the principle surrounding ‘if we can see it we can be it’.

Across most of the positions surveyed in this CSO research of large companies, female representation was broadly level or slightly up on 2019 figures. I hope today’s news brings more encouragement to women around Ireland, over a thousand of whom are Network Ireland members, that they have the potential and ability to take on the most senior roles in their workplaces”.