Report: Ireland will ‘spectacularly miss’ women in leadership targets

A new report from Balance for Better Business published today (16 December) claims that “serious gender imbalance” persists among senior leadership teams in Ireland. The country is on track to fail against its targets, it says, which require senior leadership teams in ISEQ 20 companies to be 30pc women and other listed firms to be 25pc by the end of 2023.

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To meet this year’s targets, ISEQ 20 companies’ senior leadership teams would have needed to be 20pc women. While these firms exceeded targets on average, their individual progress is lacking, according to the report.

Balance for Better Business is a Government initiative led by co-chairs Brid Horan, a co-founder of the 30% Club, and Gary Kennedy, formerly the group finance director for AIB. It was launched in 2018 and is supported by companies such as BNY Mellon, Dell, Ibec, IDA, Enterprise Ireland and more.

Women on boards

While boards have made better progress than senior leadership teams, only 27pc of all new appointments in the past year were women. That figure was 50pc between March and September in 2019.

Balance for Better Business says: “The problem is particularly acute at executive director level where 13 appointments were made without a single female appointment.” Although ISEQ 20 firms on average have already achieved the 2021 target (27pc), that average “masks mixed results”, according to the report.

As of 1 September 2020, it continues, there are a small number of boards solely comprised of men that are “resistant to change”. Eight companies had all-men boards and five of these appointed new directors, all of which were men.

The report describes this as a “particularly disappointing refusal to take the opportunity for change”.

It adds that other listed companies are “much further behind”. Many of these are unlikely to meet either board or senior leadership targets for 2020.

When Balance for Better Business was launched in 2018, however, just 14pc of boards were women. In 2020, that overall figure has grown to more than 22pc.

The report highlights five companies that reached or exceeded the overall target of 40pc: AIB, CPL, CRH, Bank of Ireland and Ryanair. Ireland’s EU ranking for board equality also improved this year, moving from 17th to 13th place.

Women in leadership

ISEQ 20 companies are also doing better than other listed companies in terms of senior leadership, Balance for Better Business reports. These companies increased from 16.9pc last year to 22.2pc this year, exceeding their 2020 target of 20pc.

Other listed companies only reached 15.9pc, however, failing to meet their target of 18pc. While 59pc of senior leadership appointments for ISEQ 20 firms were women, that figure was 29pc for other listed companies.

Balance for Better Business says: “The target of all listed companies having at least one woman on their senior leadership team by the end of 2020, again a critical first step, will be spectacularly missed.

“Almost two out of five (38pc) listed companies still have no woman on their senior leadership team.”

‘Disappointing’ results for 2020

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, TD, commented on the report: “There is still insufficient representation of women in executive director roles and the appointment rate of women to boards remains disappointing.

“By excluding women, businesses are ignoring the talent of half of the population. This cannot continue. Not only because it is wrong, but because more diverse leadership yields better results.”

Horan added: “We are today also calling on Irish companies to urgently address the serious gender imbalance that persists among senior leadership teams. Unless these issues are tackled, many companies will fall spectacularly short of these voluntary targets and more prescriptive steps may be needed to achieve balance, as has happened in several other countries.”

Kennedy said that Covid-19 has further cemented the need for gender-balanced leadership: “The business case for gender-balanced business leadership on boards and in executive management is well proven and accepted.

“Benefits to business include improved financial performance, better response to customer needs, accessing the widest talent pool and improving both company culture and governance. Strong business leadership is essential if Ireland is to secure these benefits and drive our recovery.”

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