Uncomfortable silence at Ryanair over chairman’s sexist joke

Ryanair board member Louise Phelan is a powerful advocate for women in business

David Bonderman: apologised and resigned. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Reuters/File Photo

David Bonderman: apologised and resigned. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Reuters/File Photo

 

The row that led to David Bonderman’s resignation from the board of internet taxi service Uber is embarrassing for the man who is best-known in Ireland as Ryanair’s chairman. However, it can’t be too comfortable for at least one of his nonexecutive colleagues at the low-cost carrier.

Ryanair has two women on its board, former Department of Transport mandarin Julie O’Neill and Paypal vice-president Louise Phelan, who is by far the higher-profile of the pair. As well as earning plaudits for her success at the electronic payments company, Phelan is well-known for her advocacy for women in business and as a member of the Women’s Executive Network, a global organisation that promotes female leadership. She has criticised the lack of women on Irish boards, and, as The Irish Times has reported, said she found it frustrating that gender was still an issue in business.

In a piece penned for website Silicon Republic shortly after last year’s general election, Phelan said that women continued to battle the gender barrier at the ballot box and in the boardroom.

She also noted that the most recent EU figures showed that women made up 10.5 per cent of board members at the biggest Irish-listed companies, against a European average of 18.6 per cent and argued that diverse boards were good for business.

The joke that led to Bonderman’s resignation was on the subject of women on boards. Phelan has not commented on either his remark or the fallout. She may not want to break rank. Or she may well feel that there is no need to labour the point following Bonderman’s apology and resignation.

However, given that the affair centred on a subject she feels strongly about, and that it occurred close enough to home, plenty of people are going to wonder how she feels about it all.

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