No women directors, no problem, or so the view appears within Ireland Inc

Caveat: No gender quotas and no improvement in women director numbers

 

When it comes to women directors on listed company boards, the needle is stuck on the dial. Apparently, 12.5 per cent is not just the corporate tax rate: it’s also Ireland plc’s proportion of female board members. And that’s the same as a year ago.

In any other sphere these days, this would cause trouble. But activist feminism at its most vociferous is generally a left-wing pursuit. And the corporate world is anathema to left-wingers. Most of them would rather poke out their eyes with a sickle than read a corporate governance report.

Perhaps this is why the business sector has got away with it for so long. Or perhaps it is simply easier to fish the far bigger pool of men who are experienced directors rather than trawl for women. Whether businesses should really be taking the easy way out is another question.

Fifty-two companies are listed on the Irish Stock Exchange, although two can be discounted, Diageo and Tesco, which are British companies whose shares appear to trade seldom on the Irish exchange.

About 413 directors sit on the respective boards of the remaining 50 companies. Just 52 are women, so the proportion of Irish women directors is about half that at the biggest listed companies in the UK.

About 20 of the 50 listed companies have no female representation on their boards. Many of these are little-known penny stocks, but a handful of significant players are exclusively lads’ clubs.

Datalex, the travel software company backed by investors including Dermot Desmond, has no women directors. Neither does the soon-to-depart banana company Fyffes, nor Aminex, the oil and gas explorer.

Two of the three Reits (real estate investment trusts) – Green and Hibernia – also have no women directors. The other, Irish Residential Properties Reit, has one, as does Ireland’s largest hotel company, Dalata. In both cases, this is Margaret Sweeney, the former chief executive of Dublin Airport Authority.

At least both pillar banks publish board diversity policies. Bank of Ireland’s outlines its rather tame vision for 15 per cent female representation. It makes that target, with two women among its 12 directors, including the FBD chief executive Fiona Muldoon.

AIB published its updated diversity policy last November, which reiterated a 25 per cent target. The State-owned bank also meets the bar with three women among its 12 directors, including recently-appointed Eircom executive Carolan Lennon.

About 13 of the Irish plcs that have female board representation have just the one. The same number of companies have two women directors. None comes close to a majority, or even equal representation, of women directors.

The highest proportion is a third, which happens just twice: four of the 12 CRH directors are women, as are three of the nine board members of agrifoods business Origin Enterprises.

Just two of the 50 Irish plc boards are chaired by women. Karen Slatford chairs venture capital outfit Draper Esprit, which isn’t really an Irish company anyway. The other is Rose Hynes, who chairs Origin.

This isn’t a new issue and from time to time the odd objector bangs on about gender quotas, such as the 40 per cent quota in place for State boards. But, as reported this week in the Irish Independent, most State boards ignore this quota anyway.

If the heat comes on the titans of corporate Ireland, Irish listed companies can always just appoint a few female non-executive directors to fill out the numbers.

Better indicator Less easy to address, however, is the glaring dearth of female executive directors, board members who also help run their companies from day to day. The number of manager directors is a much better indicator than non-exec numbers of the overall lot of women in corporate Ireland.

There are just eight of them, at nine companies (Maureen Jones is managing director of both Conroy Gold and Karelian Diamond Resources).

The others include Maeve Carton, transformation director and former chief financial officer of CRH; Hostelworld finance chief Mari Hurley; another Hurley, Imelda, who is finance director of Origin; and Gracielle Schutjens, chief operating officer of Venn Life Sciences.

Aside from Jones’s two roles, just three other companies have a woman at the helm: Muldoon at FBD; Anne Heraty at the recruiter she founded, CPL Resources; and Siobhán Talbot, managing director of Glanbia, where she is the lone female on a board of 19 directors.

Gender quotas are a sticky issue. Most business leaders, including many women, oppose them on the grounds that they encourage appointments based on factors other than merit.

There is also another argument against forced female representation: that boards of companies are not supposed to represent the desires of society, they are meant to represent shareholders. If investors in privately-owned businesses choose to appoint particular individuals, should anyone else have the right to force them to choose otherwise?

But while the 30 Per Cent Club women’s advocacy group might disagree, their gentle lobbying seems to have had no impact on the gender balance in the boardrooms of Irish listed companies.

With the needle stuck on the dial, the argument for a hands-off approach becomes increasingly difficult to make.

FOOTNOTES

Greg Kavanagh, the combative former New Generation Homes developer (and self-considered prodigy) is starting the new year in characteristic fashion: in a row. Kavanagh has just issued a High Court lawsuit against Gerry Mulvey, the former St Patrick’s Athletic shareholder and now Bray Wanderers investor.

Also named as a respondent is Mulvey’s wife, Sharon, who was his co-investor at St Pat’s, before it was sold to Chicago Spire developer Garrett Kelleher.

No affidavits have yet been filed by Kavanagh, so the genesis of the latest legal row – one of many recently for Kavanagh – is as yet unknown.

Separately, Kavanagh has had business links in the past with with Gerry Mulvey’s Bray Wanderers co-investor, Denis O’Connor.

The club’s owners have committed to not making a property play on Bray’s Carlisle Grounds home unless the club first gets a new facility elsewhere.

Kavanagh, who reckons he is the Ronaldo of the Irish property scene, is from Arklow at the the other end of Co Wicklow. But he surely knows the Carlisle Grounds site well.

Does Ronaldo fancy one day signing for the Seagulls? The transfer window is open.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross seemed delighted riding the bus into work on Tuesday. He tweeted a picture of himself taking the 44 from near his Enniskerry home. The experience was “wonderful”, he said.

Presumably he hopped off somewhere around Merrion Square, from where he could easily make his way to Government Buildings.

The 44 then crosses the city to Dublin City University near Whitehall on the northside.

When it is coming the other direction, the 44 is one of those routes that routinely idles for ages on Parnell Square, waiting on a driver changeover. Heed is rarely paid to the ensuing delays suffered by passengers.

If the minister were subjected to this, plus some of the other many operational foibles of Dublin Bus, would he find it so “wonderful”?

Now, I don’t mean to be mean, or one-eyed (because my own foreign language skills are so poor) but if you’re going to issue a press release in the English language, shouldn’t it at least make sense?

Marc Vidal, a Spanish venture capitalist based in Dublin, issued a missive this week for his Idodi Venture Capital outfit, announcing its investment in two tech companies, HeyGo and Adictik.

The 700-word statement was almost impossible to decipher: “One year, seven investments with a good vibration for the next rather probable. . .”

Then again, maybe I am being mean. I’m quite certain Vidal’s English is far better than my Spanish. But I’m not pitching stories to Spanish newspapers.

Vidal’s Irish is better than mine, too. His business is owned by Ceithre Seamair Duilleog, the Irish for a four-leaf clover.

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