‘Serious gender imbalance’ remains at top of Irish business, report finds

New targets set for inclusion of women on leadership teams and in private companies

Balance for Better Business co-chairs Brid Horan and Gary Kennedy. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

A "serious gender imbalance" persists at the top level of businesses in Ireland, with 13 companies trading on the Euronext Dublin retaining all-male boards, a Government-commissioned review has found.

The 20 biggest publicly quoted Irish companies have met an interim target of having women directors account for at least a quarter of their board members but, at other listed companies, “virtually no progress” has been made, the Balance for Better Business (BFBB) group said.

As of September, only 12.4 per cent of directors at other listed companies are female, a figure that is almost unchanged on six months earlier.

The listed companies with no female directors are: Amryt Pharma, Applegreen, Donegal Investment Group, Falcon Oil & Gas, Great Western Mining Corp, Mainstay Medical International, Malin Corporation, Mincon Group, Open Orphan, Ormonde Mining, Ovoca Bio, Petroneft Resources and Providence Resources.


"I would call on these boards and on the other listed companies to take action now," said Minister of State for Equality David Stanton. "They do not wish to be in the headlines for the wrong reasons."

Strong leadership

Gary Kennedy, the Greencore chairman who co-chairs the independent group with Nephin Energy chairwoman Brid Horan, said he had "mixed emotions" when considering its second report.

“The Iseq 20 companies have moved on and actually met the target we have set for them, which is good and indicates strong leadership, but the non-Iseq 20 companies have stood still and that is disappointing,” Mr Kennedy said.

Overall, Irish listed companies now have an average of 19.1 per cent female directors, but only 8.5 per cent of executive directors are women.

Ms Horan noted that Irish companies were still ranked 17th out of the EU-28 for representation of women on boards, the same as in 2018.

“It is time to fully utilise the talents, education and experience of all our people,” she said.

The report also found that more than one-third of listed companies had no woman in their leadership teams. One in five Iseq 20 companies had all-male leadership and almost half of other listed companies did so. Overall, only 15.8 per cent of leadership positions at Euronext Dublin companies are held by women.

New targets set by the group call on Iseq 20 companies to have at least 30 per cent women on their leadership teams by the end of 2023, while other listed companies should have at least 25 per cent. Currently, these percentages stand at 16.9 per cent and 14.6 per cent.

Mr Kennedy said it was “very important” to look at gender balance beyond the boardroom so that the available pool of senior women becomes stronger over time.

New appointments

The new targets will run alongside existing boardroom targets that call on Iseq 20 companies to have 33 per cent women directors by the end of 2023 and other listed companies to have 25 per cent.

The report concludes it was “encouraging” that half of all new listed board appointments since March had been women. But the rate of new female appointments to leadership teams has been a lot less impressive, with women accounting for only 18 per cent of new appointments in the year to September.

“We recommend that companies should aim for at least 50 per cent female appointments until the targets are reached.”

The report cites CSO analysis from early 2019 indicating 17.1 per cent of board directors of large Irish-owned private companies are female, which is slightly lower than the average for listed companies. It called on this representation to increase to 30 per cent by 2023.

The group, which includes the chief executives of business group Ibec and State agencies Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, favours voluntary targets rather than quotas.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics