Boards urged to capitalise on gender balance progress in 2024

The 39% of women now on the boards of ISEQ 20 companies exceeds the 33% target set for 2023, but more can be done in the year ahead


Businesses in Ireland have made significant progress towards board-level gender balance over the past 12 months, according to the latest Balance for Betters Business (B4BB) annual report.

Nonetheless, Carol Andrews and Aongus Hegarty, co-chairs of B4BB say that more work is needed during 2024 to increase the number of women in key senior leadership roles.

“A more balanced and diverse team at board and senior leadership level provides a broader range of perspectives, creates a more egalitarian culture, and ultimately drives better results,” said Carol Andrews. “Since B4BB was established five years ago, Irish firms have made considerable and widespread progress in achieving greater gender balance at board and leadership level.

“The implementation of the Gender Pay Gap Information Act has also created greater transparency and clarity on the current inequities between men and women in business. While there remains a significant gap within many organisations, highlighting awareness of these differences and opening a dialogue on how to change them is making a difference.”

 Founded five years ago, B4BB’s recent sixth annual report highlights the progress Irish businesses are making in gender balance, as well as setting out a roadmap for organisations on the actions they can take to drive progress.

The B4BB reports shows that the 39% of women now on the boards of ISEQ 20 companies exceeds the 33% target set for 2023. Similar success is evident across other listed companies, where the 28% of women on boards exceeded the 25% target set for 2023. The figures for private companies have remained steady at 22% since 2021.

In the five years since B4BB was established, female representation on the boards of ISEQ-listed companies has risen by 21%.

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.

“While there has been considerable progress on boards, more work remains,” said Carol Andrews. “Women are still underrepresented on senior leadership teams across a range of company cohorts.” 

On ISEQ 20 companies, the percentage of women on the senior leadership teams 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%.

“When looking at key decision-making roles such as CEO, CFO and chair, findings also show a clear need to accelerate the pace of change,” Carol added. “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 unchanged on last year’s figure of four.” 

While there is positive evidence that representation in these key decision-making roles is stronger in private companies and multinationals, they still remain below true parity.

B4BB says that accelerating the number of women on senior leadership teams – particularly in key decision-making roles – should be a key focus for Irish businesses to enhance competitiveness as they look ahead.

To create change at leadership level, organisations need to put gender at the heart of succession planning. Increasing the size of leadership teams can provide an immediate impact in increasing female representation.

Aongus Hegarty added: “Formalising gender-balanced search criteria for leadership appointments and regularly monitoring gender-balanced succession plans are also important steps for success. Ultimately, by making the leadership pipeline gender-balanced, we can ensure that progress is sustainable in the long-term.

“Our 2023 report provides a high-level roadmap for organisations on the actions they can take to accelerate change, from succession planning and recruitment strategies to a greater focus on strategic leaders.” 

The B4BB annual report argues that reforming the organisational culture that makes it difficult for women to progress within organisations will be critical to accelerating change.

“There are numerous cultural barriers that prevent women from rising up the leadership ladder, from a status quo that includes long-hour norms and after-hours networking, to a lack of mentorship, sponsorship and support structures that encourage women to apply for senior roles,” said Aongus.

“Business leaders should consider how they can put the necessary supports in place at every level of their organisation to provide a clear pathway to the top of organisations for women.

“With clear business benefits for more diverse and balanced organisations, business leaders need to act now in ensuring their organisation is prepared for the future.” 

Carol Andrews concludes: “By working together across the business community, we can build a more inclusive business environment in 2024 where leadership roles truly reflect Irish society and strengthen Ireland’s position as an international leader in business diversity.”

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