Irish plcs among worst placed in EU to meet ‘women on boards’ directive

Planned rules require 40% of non-executive board positions to be filled by women

Irish publicly quoted companies are among the worst placed across the EU to meet planned rules that women make up 40 per cent of non-executive board positions within the next four years, according to a new report from international executive search group Heidrick & Struggles.

Only 13 per cent of Iseq-listed companies have boards with at least 40 per cent women holding non-executive seats, the third-lowest ratio among 13 European countries monitored by the report, including France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Belgium. The Republic had the lowest average ratio of women in non-executive positions, at 27 per cent, it said.

The European Parliament and the European Council, comprised of leaders of EU countries, reached political agreement early last month on the planned Leadership Positions Directive, known colloquially as the women on board directive, that would require public companies with more than 250 employees to have at least 40 per cent of non-executive director posts or 33 per cent of all director positions held by women by mid-2026.

The agreement came 10 years after the proposal was first made by the European Commission. It had been blocked by the council until this year.

Still, Heidrick & Struggles said that women made up 42 per cent of all 45 Irish non-executive appointments last year, marking a “a material improvement to the overall balance”.

Iseq companies were among the most active across the 13 countries surveyed at making boardroom appointments over the course of 2021, though they continue to have a greater propensity to select directors who have retired from executive positions elsewhere, the report said. Only 38 per cent of non-executives in Irish companies were active executives in other companies, it said. The figure stood at about 80 per cent in France and Norway.

Commenting on the report, Stafford Bagot, regional managing partner in charge of the Heidrick & Struggles’s Irish operation, said: “It is great to see Ireland among the nations with the highest number of board appointments in 2021. With 42 per cent of these appointments being female, it shows deliberate progress made towards improving diversity and inclusion within public company leadership.”

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times