Could AI help to close the gender gap in boardrooms?

Achieving gender parity in the workplace is essential not only for the empowerment of women, but also to power Ireland’s economy

Globally, the representation of women in leadership positions has risen by less than 1 per cent in six years. Illustration: Getty

Around the world, the representation of women in leadership positions has risen by less than 1 per cent in six years. That’s the stark finding from LinkedIn data featured in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report. The finding highlights the uphill struggle in delivering diversity in the C-suite, with the share of women being hired into senior leadership roles globally falling in 2023 (37.5 per cent in 2022, to 36.9 per cent in 2023), with the trend continuing this year (36.4 per cent up to April).

Economic instability always takes more of a toll on women. And with the global labour market cooling down from the hiring frenzy of 2020 and 2021, it is women workers who are losing out.

Here in Ireland, the picture is more positive, where we have been able to maintain the gains made in recent years, with a share of 38.9 per cent of women being hired into senior roles so far this year compared to 32.8 per cent in 2016. This increase of more than 6 per cent compares to a global average of just 1 per cent.

This data echoes the CSO’s Balance for Better Business research, which found the share of women CEOs in Ireland rose from 13 per cent in 2021 to 19 per cent in 2023, with representation on boards of directors increasing from 22 to 25 per cent.


While Ireland has bucked the global trend of women getting into leadership roles, the gains are marginal. Women make up 47 per cent of all entry-level roles, before dropping to 36 per cent of director-level positions and then falling further to just 25 per cent of C-suite roles in Ireland. This gender imbalance at leadership levels persists even in industries where women are over-represented at junior level, underscoring the fact that it is not a pipeline issue. This clear and persistent “drop to the top” demonstrates the systemic imbalance in the labour market as gender balance erodes through each rung on the career ladder.

There are multiple, systemic drivers for this persistent inequity in our labour markets, including women assuming a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities, lack of availability of flexible working post pandemic, and unconscious bias in the workplace.

In a labour market that is effectively at full employment, achieving gender parity in the workplace is essential not only for the economic empowerment of women, but also to power the Irish economy. We cannot have a situation where we have companies struggling to find talent while thousands of women face barriers in taking up roles or simply not being considered for opportunities.

A critical change to achieving better gender balance is shifting to a skills-based approach to hiring. We need to move away from ruling out candidates solely on the basis of the degree they hold or previous work experience, and instead prioritise the skills and potential required to do the job.

Our data demonstrates adopting a skills-based approach significantly expands the talent pool and opens doors for women. If we adopted a skills-first approach to hiring in Ireland, we estimate it would increase the overall talent pool sixfold – and increase the share of women in traditionally male-dominated occupations by 20 per cent. Our research also shows that the increase in women applying for jobs was almost twice the increase observed in men where it’s shown how their skills overlapped with the job requirements, leading to a similar positive impact on hiring outcomes.

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Focusing on skills now could not be more important as we enter a new era of workforce transformation. Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) is shaking up how we work, with 49 per cent of organisations in Ireland already using GenAI in some form or other, according to a recent study by Trinity College Dublin and Microsoft Ireland.

This new technology calls for new skills. We expect to see a 73 per cent change in skill sets needed in the Irish workforce by 2030, up from a 54 per cent change expected before the rise of GenAI. Many of these will be soft, interpersonal skills that help us work well together, such as team leadership, strategic leadership and collaboration. And these are skills that women excel at. Of the soft skills listed on LinkedIn, women have a 28 per cent higher share than men.

Women are also pushing ahead with their own technical upskilling. Since 2016, the share of female AI talent and the concentration of women working in AI engineering has grown significantly. Ireland has a strong foundation to build on having the highest level of third-level attainment and highest level of STEM graduates per capita in the EU. With the right focus by policymakers and business on skill building, the advent of artificial intelligence presents an opportunity to help close the gender gap and put Ireland at the forefront of the GenAI transformation.

Ultimately breaking the glass ceiling for women in Ireland will only happen if we address the root causes of the problem. Gender parity and its consequences demand systemic, economywide solutions if we are to bring about a more equitable workplace for all.