Irish public limited companies have emerged at the bottom of the pile across a selection of European countries in appointing women to their boards, according to a new report from Chicago-headquartered executive search group Heidrick & Struggles.
Women accounted for 29 per cent of 34 boardroom seats filled across Irish publicly-limited companies (Plcs) in 2018, the lowest among seven countries monitored, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The average stood at 38 per cent.
“The statistics speak for themselves,” said Stafford Bagot, the head of Heidrick & Struggles’ Dublin office, which opened earlier this year. “Ireland is certainly not leading the way.”
The figures underscore the challenge ahead as a Government-commissioned review recommended in May that the boards of the top 20 Dublin-listed companies should be at least 33 per cent female by the end of 2023, while women should make up at least a quarter of directors of smaller quoted companies.
The Balance for Better Business Review Group, chaired by Brid Horan, chairwoman of Nelphin Energy, and Greencore chairman Gary Kennedy, estimated last month that at least a dozen companies trading on Euronext Dublin will fall short of an initial target for there to be no all-male boards among listed Irish companies by the end of this year.
The body's first report, following an initiative spearheaded by Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton, found that female representation on the boards of Irish listed companies was 16.4 per cent. Among executive director-only roles, some 8.8 per cent of positions are held by women.
More than a dozen European countries have set quotas of 30-40 per cent for women board directors, according to Heidrick & Struggles. Some, including Belgium, France, Italy and Norway, penalise firms – with fines, bans on paying existing director, or even possible dissolution – that fail to comply with the quotas.
Germany, the Netherlands and Spain set quotas but do not sanction companies that fail to meet them, while the UK and Ireland have only set guidelines for women representation on boards.
Meanwhile, the Heidrick & Struggles survey found that the Netherlands and Ireland topped the list in terms of the number of non-nationals appointed to public boards last year, at 62 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively.
However, only 12 per cent of newly-appointed directors had digital or social media expertise, and 6 per cent had cybersecurity experience.
“While Irish companies had been behind the curve on the technology and cybersecurity fronts, I think they’re very aware now of how important these areas are, so I’d expect the results to be different in a year’s time,” said Mr Bagot.