According to the report, from the Irish chapter of the International Women’s Forum, only 40 out of 810 directors of Ireland’s 100 largest companies are women. This represents just 5% of the total, compared to a 12% average in the US and Britain.
The report found the main reasons women were not represented on more boards was the perceived lack of business experience, and in some instances, just of discrimination.
One of the report’s authors, Dr Maureen Gaffney, said last night: “This report confirms that while women comprise half the population and make up more than half of the entrants to many university courses, they comprise only a tiny minority at the higher level of most professions and occupations.”
However, she was optimistic for the future, saying recent changes to corporate governance regulations meant more independent, non-executive directors would have to be appointed, and the pool of such people in Ireland was limited at present and will ultimately be widened to include more women.
Though Dr Gaffney is optimistic about the prospects of increasing the presence of women in Irish boardrooms, the attitude of male directors would indicate otherwise. According to the IWF report, 42% of male chief executives believe women are not qualified enough to become directors.
Some 78% of chief executives and chairmen interviewed by the IWF had no policy about appointing women to their boards, 76% had no plan to introduce such a policy, while 23% said there was a difference in leadership styles between men and women.
One male chief executive explained why women were not increasing among their ranks: “I think that this issue of having a successful track record in business behind you is one of the primary reasons. And there isn’t a sufficient track record of women in that category.” Another said: “There is a fair degree of prejudice about the place, let’s be blunt about it.”
Dr Gaffney added that the semi-state and public sector have a healthy number of women in senior positions and this redresses the questions of experience. The IWF found that 28% of public and semi-state board seats are held by women.
“These women represent an untapped pool of director talent. However, that talent will remain untapped unless businesses, and women themselves, focus on identifying the transferable skills and on managing their transition into a business environment.”
Suggestions to increase the level of female participation by the IWF include: setting up a database of women who have the experience to become non-executive directors, urging women to seek high-profile roles within organisations and setting up training awareness programmes for male chief executives and chairmen to become conscious of diversity in the boardroom.