Only one in nine CEOs in Irish business are women

CSO survey shows gender balance remains poor with construction sector worst offender

Foreign owned companies have a better gender balance research from the CSO shows. Pictured is Microsoft’s country manager for Ireland, Cathriona Hallahan. Photograph: Maxwells

Foreign owned companies have a better gender balance research from the CSO shows. Pictured is Microsoft’s country manager for Ireland, Cathriona Hallahan. Photograph: Maxwells


Women may continue to make major strides in the workplace, but new figures show that gender imbalance remains at the heart of Irish business, as just one in nine chief executives in large enterprises in 2019 were women. However, this is not too far from international norms; there are just six female chief executives among FTSE 100 firms, while women lead fewer than 5 per cent of S&P 500 companies.

According to a new gender balance survey, the first time the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has sought to provide benchmark statistics on gender representation in senior executive teams and boards of directors, women remain poorly represented at senior level in Ireland.

The survey reveals that women occupied only 28 per cent of senior executive roles compared with 72 per cent for men. And the more senior you go, the fewer the women.

Women account for just 20 per cent of positions on boards of directors, for example, but when you get to chief executive level, the proportion drops to just 11.5 per cent. Moving up the professional ladder again, the survey shows that the “vast majority” of chairpersons are male, at 93 per cent compared with 7 per cent being female.

However, there may be a sign of improvement. When it comes to recent appointments, the research finds that one-third of persons appointed to senior executive posts within the past year were women, and two-thirds were men. This compares favourably with statistics for executives who have been in their jobs for five years or more, as the gender breakdown here is a quarter of such professionals are women.

The survey also shows that there might be more of a tendency to appoint female executives when hiring externally, as the share of women in external appointments, at 31 per cent, was somewhat higher than for internal, at 27 per cent. The downside to this however is that the majority of senior positions tend to be filled internally, at some 75 per cent of the total.

Foreign owned companies are better

When it comes to ownership of companies, Irish companies are lagging their foreign-owned peers, which report that 31 per cent of their senior executive roles, and 21 per cent of their board positions, are filled by women. This compares with 26 per cent and 19 per cent for Irish companies.

Many US multinationals operating in Ireland for example, particularly in the tech sector, have female chief executives, including Google’s Fionnuala Meehan and Microsoft’s Cathriona Hallahan.

And nearly 11 per cent of foreign-owned enterprises in 2019 had a female chairperson, compared to 5 per cent of Irish-owned businesses.

Construction is poor for gender balance

The survey also shows which sectors are best for gender balance – and which are worst.

Top of the bunch is the accommodation and food service sector, which had the highest percentage of female senior executives at 46 per cent, or close to one in two. It was followed by the administrative and support service activities sector at 37 per cent.

At the other end of the scale however is construction, which remains predominantly a male led industry. Indeed just 9 per cent of all senior executives in the sector were women, the survey shows. One of the few female chief executives in the sector is Ann O’Brien, head of engineering company Kent Stainless.

And when it comes to directorships, the construction sector is again very poor; just 8 per cent of the directors of construction companies are women. This compares poorly with companies operating in “other services” which reported that more than one in four (26 per cent) directors are women.