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Getting Women on Board: Time for quotas to increase the number of women on boards

Published: Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) today held a high profile “Getting Women on Board” event in the Mansion House. Following the publication of NWCI’s “Better Boards” handbook in 2015, the event examined how to accelerate the pace of change, and increase the numbers of women on private company boards in Ireland.

The event was co-hosted by the Norwegian Embassy, who achieved 40% women on private company boards in 2008, following the introduction of gender quotas.

Orla O’Connor, Director of NWCI said,

“Women comprise just 16% of membership of ISEQ20 company boards in Ireland. While this number is increasing, the pace of change is agonisingly slow, and Ireland is behind the European average of 23%, and even further behind the UK, who are on 27%. Board performance is largely dependent upon us tapping into the economic power and potential of women. 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.”

“The Government have committed to a review of women’s representation across all sectors in the Programme for Government and have committed to commissioning an independent review of women’s representation in governance and senior management in business in the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 as well as an implementation plan to promote women to senior leadership roles. NWCI is calling for a full report into the low representation of women on company boards, and for a National Action Plan to tackle it. Quotas must be a key part of this action plan. For quotas to achieve lasting success, they must be used as part of a larger strategy that tackles board requirements. Leadership is critical from government, Chairs and CEOs. 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.”

Liv Monica Stubholt business lawyer and a partner with one of Norway's top law firms, who was the keynote speaker at the event said,

“The objective of strong female executive percentage in business has been surprisingly hard to achieve, even in countries with a high level of female participation in work life, such as Norway. Norway’s experience with more than ten years of quotas legislation is relevant to Ireland; gender consciousness in the society has proven insufficient. Unconscious bias against women candidates must be countered by supportive measures.  Norway's experience with quotas has been positive. Much more remains to be done, however. Non-executive quotas have yet to translate into stronger female executive percentage in business.”

Margaret E. Ward, RTÉ board member and CEO Of Clear Ink said:

“Diversity is good for business. Boards comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds and ages make better decisions for their customers, shareholders and society at large. More women in senior decision-making positions will help change the structures that hold women back at work and discriminate against them. When we see more women in the boardroom we will see more agile businesses that are attuned to employees' needs and ready to adapt to the major changes that are taking place now thanks to globalisation, AI and changing demographics. Diversity is one of the most innovative, disruptive moves a company can make, yet many are blind to its significant commercial advantages."

Else Berit Eikeland, Norway’s Ambassador to Ireland said,

“Norway was the first country to introduce quotas, and so far it is the country with the greatest success in reaching the goal of 40 percent female representation on boards. Today this policy is broadly supported by Norwegian private companies, because studies show that boards that meet the quota requirement report having more productive conversations. A higher female representation on boards has led to more efficient and better boards.”

Anne O’Leary, CEO Vodafone Ireland said,

“I am delighted and honoured to be part of this important National Women’s Council of Ireland event and wish to congratulate NWCI on facilitating a discussion about this important issue. I am a passionate advocate for female empowerment and for women achieving their full potential in the workplace. We know that as little as four in ten (41%) of all PLC Boards of Irish listed companies have no women directors, and only 22% have only one female representative. Research consistently shows that improving gender understanding and enhancing diversity and inclusiveness leads to a better, happier workplace and better business results. There is a real social and commercial imperative for Irish companies to address the gender balance issue.”

Photos will be distributed to Photodesks after the #WomenOnBoard event by Conor McCabe

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