Bad timing for Ibec on boardroom boys' clubs

BusinessEurope warns about proposal on female non-executive directors

 Larry Murrin: gave talk about diversity in Dublin Castle.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Larry Murrin: gave talk about diversity in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Ibec co-hosted a conference this week with the Department of Justice promoting gender equality in business. So far, so progressive.

How unfortunate, then, for the employers’ lobby group that on precisely the same morning, an umbrella body of which Ibec is a member released a statement urging politicians to torpedo a proposal designed to address the dearth of women in boardrooms.

BusinessEurope, the cross-continental employers’ lobby group, wrote to the European Commission to complain about an EU proposal that all listed companies ensure that 40 per cent of non-executive directors are female by 2020.

Just as the conference delegates were assembling to listen to Ibec’s Larry Murrin and others talk diversity in Dublin Castle, the European lobby group was telling politicians that the quota proposal did not take into account the way corporate boards function.

“It would be better to withdraw this particular proposal,” it said.

Timing is everything – bad timing is a curse. We have written here before about the bastion of brotherhoods that constitutes the Iseq. Barely a single major company on the exchange would come within an ass’s roar of meeting the proposed EU quota on current form.

Almost half don’t have a single female director, only three of them have more than two – and none of the tolerant trio is an Irish company; they are British outfits that maintain an Irish listing.

The imposition of boardroom quotas for women is clearly a thorny issue. A draft EU directive on the 40 per cent proposal has already been passed by the European Parliament, but is currently snagged at the European Council of national ministers. If Ibec’s friends at BusinessEurope get their way, that’s where it will stay.

The issue is due to be discussed next month at the Law Society, at an event hosted by the Irish Women Lawyers Association. Deirdre Somers, the chief executive of the Irish Stock Exchange, is due to give a speech. Incidentally, eight non-executive directors sit on the board of the ISE alongside Somers. Blokes, one and all.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald gave the opening address at the Department of Justice/Ibec conference. If the Minister is serious about addressing the lack of women in top corporate leadership positions, she should expedite proposals to allow women to share maternity leave with men.

Quotas or not, the number of women directors will naturally rise when there are more women chief executives and chief financial officers, and among the other senior positions that form the pool from which most directorships get doled out.

More women will hit those positions faster if equal parental leave is delivered, eliminating one of the major barriers to female progression to senior management ranks.

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