Need to Accelerate Gender Balance at Senior Leadership – Balance for Better Business 6th Annual Report
6th December 2023
The sixth annual report of the Balance for Better Business (B4BB) Review Group, published today, reveals that businesses in Ireland have made significant progress in achieving gender balance at Board level over the past year, but more work is needed to increase the number of women in key senior leadership roles.
Launched by Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney TD and the Balance for Better Business Co-Chairs Carol Andrews and Aongus Hegarty, the report analysed data on gender representation at Board and senior leadership positions across ISEQ 20, other publicly listed companies, multinational companies and private firms across Ireland.
Having been established in 2018 with an initial five-year mandate, today marks a milestone for Balance for Better Business. In revealing the results of the Annual Report, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney TD announced the Government’s intention to continue the initiative for a further five years.
Continued progress on Boards
The report shows that the proportion of women on the Boards of ISEQ 20 companies this year is 39%, exceeding the 33% target set for 2023.
Across other listed companies, the percentage of women on boards is 28%, beyond the 25% target set for 2023. Private companies with Irish ownership have remained steady at 22% since 2021 – this is an overall increase from 17% in 2019.
In the five years since B4BB was established, the levels of female representation on the Boards of ISEQ listed companies have increased by 21 percentage points, significantly beyond the voluntary targets set out by the business-led review group. In a sign of continued progress at Board level, for the second consecutive year,
Ireland features in the top ten countries in the EU 27 for female board representation on listed companies.
The pipeline for female appointments to Boards remains strong, with companies increasing the number of women on boards on top of existing levels.
79% of ISEQ 20 boards now have at least three women on their board, an increase of 5 percentage points on last year.
Similarly, across other listed companies, half of Boards consist of two or more women.
For the first time this year, results show the breakdown for private companies, 1 in 3 of these companies have two or more women on their boards.
Change slows in senior leadership
The report reveals progress has been considerably slower on the number of women in senior leadership positions.
The proportion of women on the senior leadership teams of ISEQ 20 companies is 27%, falling short of the 30% target set for 2023.
Other listed companies also missed their 2023 target, with female representation decreasing to 16% against a target of 25%. In leadership, private companies have also remained steady at 28% since data was last measured in 2021, while multinational companies have achieved 30%.
The number of women in key decision-making roles at publicly listed companies remains low.
The total number of female CEOs across all publicly listed companies has fallen to three, just 9% of all listed companies.
There are only two female chairs across all publicly listed companies, representing 6% of total company boards. The number of female CFOs is consistent with last year’s figure of four.
Female representation in key decision-making roles is stronger in private companies with 13% of those companies having a female chair, 21% having a female CEO and 28% having a female CFO.
Similarly, multinational organisations have stronger female leadership, 18% of country leads are female and 28% of finance heads.
More positively, the proportion of all male leadership teams has decreased from 32% to 29% among publicly listed companies, while over half (56%) of the same cohort of companies have two or more women on their senior leadership team. All male leadership teams are less common in the private companies, where only 1 in 5 teams have no female leaders, with a similar picture evident in multinational organisations.
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney TD said: “It is encouraging to see continued progress in gender balance among Irish companies in the findings of the annual Balance for Better Business report. Exceeding targets for the proportion of women on the Boards of publicly listed companies is an important accomplishment and is testament to the significant work undertaken by the business community. With well-established evidence that companies with more women in senior leadership positions show better organisational and functional performance, I welcome the impact that this progress will have on enhancing the competitiveness of Irish firms internationally.
While this progress is laudable, more work remains.
Women are still underrepresented in key decision-making roles at senior leadership and Board level, with only two female chairs and three CEOs across all publicly listed companies.
It’s critical that firms address these areas to increase the pace of progress and create a gender balanced enterprise economy where leadership roles accurately reflect Irish society. The commitment of the B4BB Co-Chairs and the wider Review Group since the inception of B4BB is to be commended and I look forward to working them as they continue to focus on this area to accelerate progress over the next five years.”
Balance for Better Business co-chair Carol Andrews said: “Since Balance for Better Business was established in 2018, we’ve seen considerable progress in gender balance in business governance and senior leadership in Ireland. By setting voluntary targets, female representation on the Boards of ISEQ listed companies has increased by 21% over the past five years, indicating the importance of encouraging companies to own their own progress in building sustainable change.
Our focus is now shifting to increase the representation of women on senior leadership teams, which remains particularly low across the CEO, CFO and Chair roles in publicly listed companies.
To address this challenge, businesses should develop gender balanced succession plans and pipelines for key leadership roles.
By addressing the cultural barriers that prevent women advancing in organisations and providing concrete pathways to top positions we can enable sustainable and long-lasting change.”
Balance for Better Business co-chair Aongus Hegarty added: “We welcome the continued progress in gender balance at Board level among companies in Ireland, with three or more women on the boards of 79% of Ireland’s largest publicly listed companies.
However, the pace of change at senior leadership level for publicly listed companies remains slow. While reforming the organisational culture that makes it difficult for women to progress within organisations can be challenging, to accelerate change,
it is critical that companies take a gender-balanced approach to people processes and put gender at the heart of succession planning.
Within this year’s report we have highlighted the key strategies that companies have been implementing and have resulted in the delivery of better gender balance in business. These include setting stretch targets and developing an action plan to achieve them, building a gender balanced succession plan and pipeline for board and leadership roles, and mandating gender balanced candidate lists for open roles and promotion to board and leadership positions. If more organisations were to implement these recommendations, we would certainly see companies across Ireland advance progress in gender balance in business and ultimately build a more inclusive system of business leadership.”
To download a copy of the sixth report of the Balance for Better Business Review Group go to www.betterbalance.ie.