PayPal vice-president of global operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Louise Phelan said she didn’t agree with quotas in principle but felt they were needed to spur a change at board level.
Currently, women make up just 10% of board seats on Iseq companies.
“I do believe if we’re going to change the paradigm as much as we want to change it, based on our customer bases being 50% women/50% male, we’ve got to have quotas.
"We must sunset them because I don’t think we’re going to break through fast enough and quick enough over the centuries that we haven’t moved the needle.
“If you look at the Dáil, for example, we’ve moved from 15% to 22% [female representation with the introduction of quotas],” she said on RTÉ Radio 1’s Sean O’Rourke show.
Ms Phelan’s call was supported by Sodexo Ireland country president Margot Slattery who said quotas were required on a temporary basis.
“I think gender quotas are necessary for a period of time to make a difference because growing up in this society I think until we do something different we’ll end up with the same results and the low representation of women at a C-suite level,” Ms Slattery said.
The business leaders were speaking as they were named among Ireland’s 25 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN).
Among the women to make the prestigious list were Primark group director Breege O’Donoghue who earlier this week confirmed she is to leave the retailer after 37 years.
Shannon Group chairperson Rose Hynes, Road Safety Authority chair Liz O’Donnell, Disney vice-president for technology Una Fox and Dell Ireland general manager Niamh Townsend were also honoured by WXN.
Ms Townsend said she opposed the imposition of gender quotas on the basis that they “can be quite damaging” and instead argued that roles should be filled based on candidates’ capability.
Developing a diverse pipeline of talent to ensure a wide mix of candidates is available for positions is crucial, however, she added.
WXN chief executive Sherri Stevens congratulated all the winners, saying: “We are proud to be a part of the continued conversation around the success of professional women.
"The 2016 winners are a testament to the value of women across various different Irish sectors and we congratulate them on their achievements.”