Building a Sustainable Agenda

2nd February 2023

Posted In: The Topic

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD and former UK Prime Minister Lady Theresa May, MP, today called out the importance of gender diversity among decision makers in delivering on Ireland’s sustainability goals.

The Taoiseach and Lady May were speaking at the 30% Club’s ninth annual Chair & CEO Conference and its first in-person event post pandemic. Entitled Building a Sustainable Agenda the conference, which took place at the Printworks in Dublin Castle, was attended by over 250 leaders from across all areas of business in the private and public sectors.

The 30% Club supports the achievement of a minimum of 30% gender balance at all senior decision-making levels in companies/organisations nationwide.

Sustainable economic progress

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the audience that sustainable finance is very much a consideration for most investors and funds now, and that the State itself is a proponent of this through the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF):

“Ireland is an attractive country for investment, and many funds and companies thinking of investing here want to see progressive and balanced leadership teams, who are taking their responsibilities seriously in terms of protecting the planet too.

“Last year, Gender Pay Gap reporting became obligatory for companies in Ireland for the first time. This was an important step in both highlighting and working towards ending the gender pay gap, and I know many companies are focused on improving this in their own organisations.

“It makes sense to ensure that boards and senior leadership teams of companies in Ireland are diverse. Not just because it is the right thing to do as women make up half the population and represent half the skills and talent, but also because it makes economic and business sense.

It is well established that companies with higher levels of gender diversity, and indeed diversity in general, on their boards and senior leadership teams achieve better economic performance.

“Sustainable leadership is also crucial to business success. Sustainable finance is very much a consideration for most investors and funds now, and the Government is backing this through the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF).

“While we have made significant progress on these issues in Ireland in recent years, and we continue to move forward, it is clear that much more needs to be done. I am here today to support those endeavours and the work of the 30% Club.

We have a long way to go to achieve gender equality and we are an unfinished republic until we do.”

Pipelines of talent needed for the future

Lady May, in conversation with 30% Club supporter, David McRedmond, CEO of An Post, said that it was “a fantastic opportunity” to be able to speak to so many of Ireland’s “most dynamic leaders across so many fields” about the critical role that diversity can play in delivering for the environment and also in “encouraging the next generation of female decision makers.”

She called on

“every single male CEO who looks around his boardroom table and sees nine out of ten male faces staring back at him to ask themselves what they are doing to make their business one in which their daughter or grand-daughter can progress”.

“We must ask what senior leaders are doing to ensure that they are drawing on as broad a range of opinions and experience as possible? Part of that must be thinking creatively in terms of recruitment – to not just look at those people who fit a traditional career path, but to open up opportunities to others and so ensure a proper pipeline of talent into the future.

“This doesn’t just apply to businesses in the private sector but across all organisations and I particularly congratulate the Gardaí – who have done so much to highlight the importance of diversity in the workplace – on becoming the 300th member of the 30% Club.”

Investors driving change

Meliosa O’Caoimh, Country Chair, 30% Club Ireland and Country Lead, Northern Trust, said the theme of building a sustainable agenda is an important one, and noted that sustainability extends to much more than climate action measures.

“Building a sustainable business is about building a survivable business, and that is strongly dependent on diverse talent. We need to think about how we ensure, as a business community, that we fully integrate gender balance into our climate and eco efforts, as well as how to mobilise the power of the investor as a catalyst for change?

“Our continued focus needs to be on changing the culture of organisations, rather than the men and women that work within them.

Post Covid-19 we have more opportunity to make a step change in how our modern workplaces operate, and we need to make sure we don’t waste that opportunity. That may involve reflecting on which organisations we choose to engage or work with based on their inclusiveness, culture and values.”

Commenting on video at the event Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he was honoured that An Garda Síochána recently became the official 300th member of the 30% Club’s Irish chapter, and that while the organization has improved gender diversity, there is a recognition that there is “more to do”:

“An Garda Síochána’s two Deputy Commissioners are female and 50% of our senior leadership team are now women. We have women heading up many of our operational and administrative functions, and we have one of the highest percentages of female police officers in Europe.

“However, women should be better represented at inspector and superintendent level, and to that end in 2019 we set up a women’s network. It supports and encourages female gardaí to advance their careers…and also helps to identify any organisational barriers to women progressing, that need redressing and resolution. It has proven very beneficial since its introduction.”

Cultural change

The conference also hosted a lively panel discussion on sustainable finance and ESG, chaired by Peter Cosgrave, MD of Futurewise. The panellists included Fernando Vicario, CEO Bank of America, Mary MacNamara, Deputy Director, Irish Strategic Investment Fund and Kathy Ryan, Head of Sustainable Investment, Irish Life Investments Managers.

Fernando Vicario spoke about how ESG (Environment Social and Governance) polices are deeply embedded in the culture of Bank of America. As member of the Global Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council of BoA, he is involved in promoting diversity goal-setting and embedding DE&I in performance management processes, across the organisation.

Mary McNamara highlighted how NTMA has worked hard to improve its own gender balance figures – particularly at senior management level – and took the audience through this journey.  She said it was important that the agency addressed this first, so that it had the authority to challenge their investors on their ED&I strategy. She also highlighted the €50 million fund that ISIF recently announced to promote female-led investment firms – which aims to build on existing measures by ISIF to drive greater female participation at senior levels within the financial sector.

Kathy Ryan spoke about the imminent ESG directives and legislation that many businesses may not be aware of that are coming down the track. She also highlighted ILIM’s active role with the companies that they invest in, to ensure investment is linked to key ED&I and ESG targets.

New Investor Group 

The 30% Club today also announced plans to launch a new Investor Group within the Irish Chapter.

Investor groups operate in a number of 30% Club Chapters across the world and bring together asset management and investment intermediaries. These commit to using their ownership and voting rights – as influence to drive positive change – with regard to gender balance, as part of creating sustainable businesses.  Investor groups are reflective of their local marketplace and the 30% Club Irish chapter is pleased to announce a new steering group that will comprise three leading organisations.

The initiative has proven very successful in the sister chapter in the UK, and is active for over a decade. It has brought together more than 40 investors with £11 trillion AUM (Assets Under Management) to drive change, in collaboration with companies, on inclusion and diversity.