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Increasing Gender Balance on Boards: The Case for Legislative Gender Quotas in Ireland

Published: Thursday, June 24, 2021

The global spread of corporate quotas for women over the past 30 years is both remarkable and consequential. After adoption, quotas have influenced the number of women on boards, the performance and outcomes of decision-making bodies, and broader public attitudes. Quotas redistribute power at the top of the labor market that has positive trickle-down benefits : for companies in improving financial performance; for other women at all levels in a firm that include smaller gender wage gaps more flexible work options and measures to combat sexual harassment. Legislative quota laws are most successful in increasing women’s board representation. In the report we make the case for mandatory corporate gender quotas in Ireland. We begin by underlining the efficacy of gender quotas to deliver significant increases in gender balance on corporate boards including a review of the proposed EU Directive on Gender Balance on Boards. The report explains what legislative corporate quotas are, and the difference between them and voluntary targets. Drawing on international evidence, we detail the limits of voluntary quotas and targets. Acknowledging where some progress has been achieved in Ireland, we continue by illustrating how such progress has now stalled and why Ireland would benefit from a system of mandatory quotas. In a series of international case studies, we detail what is distinctive about a legislative approach to gender quotas, where they have worked well and under what conditions. As part of this we provide evidence of the limits of voluntary and soft targets to realize significant and durable progress in achieving gender balanced boards.

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