Growth rate of women in senior executive roles slows

While gender balance at board level improved, progress slows in leadership positions

Irish businesses have further work ahead to achieve gender balance in senior leadership roles, a new report has found.

The report from Balance for Better Business said that although there had been an increase in gender balance on boards of Irish companies in the past year, progress in the appointment of women to senior roles had slowed and some companies missed targets.

The report looks at gender representation on the boards and senior leadership roles in the Iseq 20, publicly listed companies outside that cohort, multinationals and private companies in Ireland.

Less than 10 per cent of all listed companies have female chief executives – three in total – while only two have female chairs, and four have female chief financial officers.


However, Ireland now ranks among the top 10 countries in the 27 EU member states for female representation on boards of listed companies. It is sixth for female representation on leadership teams.

Women account for 39 per cent of the boards of Iseq 20 companies, ahead of a target of 33 per cent for this year. Other listed companies were lower at 28 per cent, but still ahead of the 25 per cent target set, while other private companies were steady at 22 per cent, unchanged from 2021 but up from 17 per cent in 2019.

Seventy-nine per cent of Iseq 20 boards now have at least three women on their board, up 5 percentage points on last year. A third of private companies have two or more women on their boards.

“The pace of change at senior leadership level for publicly listed companies remains slow,” said Balance for Better Business co-chair Aongus Hegarty. “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.”

Women represented only 27 per cent of the senior leadership teams in Iseq 20 companies, below the 30 per cent target, and other listed companies saw female leadership fall to 16 per cent in the past year. Private companies were steady at 28 per cent, with multinational companies at 30 per cent.

But all-male leadership teams fell in publicly listed companies, from 32 per cent to 29 per cent. More than half have two or more women on their senior leadership team. Among private companies and multinationals, only one in five leadership teams are all male.

Co-chairwoman Carol Andrews said there had been “considerable progress” since Better Business was established in 2018.

Over the five-year period, female representation on Iseq-listed companies has increased 21 percentage points, while the percentage of women on other listed boards hit 28 per cent, ahead of the 25 per cent target set for 2023. However, private boards missed their target, staying at 22 per cent.

“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,” she said. “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.”

The Balance for Better Business programme was initially backed by the Government for five years, but Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney said the Government would back it for another five-year term.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist