Women’s council calls for gender quotas on company boards

NWCI says quotas have ‘real merit’ for accelerating the pace of change

Targeted measures to get more women in the boardroom must include a national action plan and gender quotas, according to the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI).

The organisation, along with the Norwegian embassy, will host the “Women on Board” event at the Mansion House in Dublin on Wednesday evening to highlight slow progress in equal representation at board level.

Director of NWCI Orla O’Connor noted that women comprise just 16 per cent of membership of Iseq 20 company boards in Ireland.

While this number was increasing, the pace of change was “agonisingly slow”. Ireland is behind the European average of 23 per cent, and both are behind the UK where 27 per cent of board members are female.

“Board performance is largely dependent upon us tapping into the economic power and potential of women,” Ms O’Connor said.

“Government and businesses must take specific and targeted measures to increase the number of women on boards, and these must include a gender quota. Quotas are a blunt tool, but they have real merit as a mechanism for accelerating the pace of change, and increasing the numbers of women on boards in a timely manner.”

Ms O’Connor noted the Government had committed in the Programme for Government to a review of women’s representation across all sectors. It has also said it will commission an independent review of women’s representation in governance and senior management in business.

“For quotas to achieve lasting success, they must be used as part of a larger strategy that tackles board requirements,” the NWCI director added.

“Leadership is critical from government, chairs and chief executives. To ensure targets are met, we also need an independent review, as well as industry-led gender targets, reflected in governance codes, and companies must be obliged to ‘comply or explain’ on progress.”

Business lawyer Liv Monica Stubholt, a partner with one of Norway's top law firms, is the keynote speaker. Other participants include Margaret E Ward, an RTÉ board member, and Anne O'Leary, chief executive of Vodafone Ireland.

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