One third of Ireland's board members are now female

14 May 2019 4 min. read
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While Ireland is one of the world’s leading countries for gender inclusivity, there is still a great deal of room for improvement on the matter. A new report has found that only 26% of organisations having a specific programme in place to develop diverse leadership, while it remains rare that senior management’s pay and bonuses are linked to diversity targets, meaning they have little incentive to buy into change agendas.

As the struggle to overturn centuries of inequality and societal prejudice continues, gender parity still seems a distant ideal, despite the gradual progress of the last century. Ireland is one of the countries leading the charge, with a recent World Economic Forum study finding it was one of the top 10 nations which had made most progress closing the gender gap.

Now, a new report by EY, the gender composition of boards in Ireland has surpassed 30% female representation, representing a 7% increase since 2017. According to new research conducted by EY among more than 150 senior leaders in Ireland, the average gender composition of boards now comprises 31% women and 69% men.What is the current gender composition of your organisation’s Board?

Commenting on the progress at EY and shown in the report, EY Ireland Managing Partner Frank O’Keeffe said, Diversity and inclusion remains a top priority for us in EY Ireland, and will continue to remain central to how we operate our business into the future. Diverse, inclusive organisations are better organisations; they’re the organisations that think differently, that lead the way in innovation, that succeed in challenging circumstances and that attract and retain the best people in the market. In today’s environment, what leader wouldn’t want an organisation like that?”

There is still work to do, however. In spite of progress made in gender representation on boards, just 35% said their organisation had taken appropriate measures to address the causes of any gender pay gap, and even within that group, 38% still stated men were more likely to be promoted in their organisation than women. The third annual report from EY on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) across the island of Ireland also found that while 83% of organisations aspire to gender parity across all levels, 13% explicitly state that they do not.

Surprisingly, a majority of businesses now support a statutory solution to driving diversity. Regulation is rarely a popular topic among corporations, and last year’s report saw a slim majority stopped short of calling for legislation, however a year later, an increase of 10% of those in favour of regulation or legislation has seen 59% now support it as a driver for creating more diverse and inclusive organisations.Senior leadership in our organisation are held accountable for implementing D&I strategies

With just 26% of organisations having a specific programme in place to develop diverse leadership, and 67% of organisations saying that they ‘need more support’ from their senior leadership to advance D&I agendas, it is not surprising that there has been such a spike in support for the motivating factor of state intervention. However, EY also found that in the meantime, firms could vastly improve their inclusivity by better deploying metrics. At present, only 23% of senior leadership are held accountable for implementing D&I strategies, while a meager 16% of organisations measure the impact of D&I on performance.

Olivia McEvoy, Director of Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Service at EY Ireland, suggested, “This lack of measurement and accountability may help explain the chasm between the importance organisations say they attach to D&I versus what translates into action… We all know that what gets measured gets done, so without concrete metrics, it’s understandable to see why leadership buy-in may be lacking… For D&I to progress, it needs to be quantified, and there need to be accountability measures for senior leaders and middle management put in place.”