New Bill seeks to introduce gender quotas for company boards

If enacted, Private Members’ Bill will establish a 40% quota for female representation

The National Women’s Council has called on the Government to support a new Bill that would make gender quotas for company boards a legal requirement.

The new Private Members’ Bill would, if enacted, establish a 40 per cent quota for female representation on company boards.

The Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021, brought forward by Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins, will be submitted to the Dáil today.

The Bill includes a stipulation that 33 per cent of a company’s board must be women after the first year of its enactment. This quota would rise to 40 per cent after three years.

Companies would be required to submit annual reports on their gender balance at boardroom level.

Where a company failed to meet the gender balance quota without a credible explanation, they could become liable for an application to the High Court for an order directing them to comply with the Act.

The quotas would apply to boards and governing councils of designated companies, corporations, undertakings, charities and bodies in the State.

There would be a few exceptions, such as companies with fewer than 20 employees.

“Women accounted for just 22.4 per cent of board members of Irish-listed companies as of September 2020, while 19 per cent of Irish-listed companies had no female directors, according to a recent report from National Women’s Council,” said Ms Higgins.

Gender quotas of this nature were recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality earlier this year.

Target-led approach

The current voluntary target-led approach is not working, according to Emma DeSouza, women in leadership co-ordinator with National Women’s Council of Ireland.

“There is robust international evidence that legislative quotas work well, and a groundswell of support across political parties and businesses alike for a legislative approach,” she said.

France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have already adopted similar quotas, and this has influenced the number of women on boards, said Ms DeSouza.

“Quotas redistribute power at the top of the labour market, which results in significant trickle-down benefits, both in terms of improving financial performance but also for women at all levels in a company.”

Ms DeSouza added that a growing number of studies make a business case for increasing the number of women in leadership roles.

“Including women in senior management and on boards makes full use of the available talent, incorporates more diverse perspectives and life experiences, and in turn leads to greater innovation, higher productivity, and better working conditions,” she said.

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