Ireland performing poorly for women in leadership roles

Female political leadership, women in government and women in management trails many European countries
Ireland performing poorly for women in leadership roles

Ireland does rank highly in salary levels and the gender wage gap. Picture: iStock

Ireland ranks 12th out of 100 countries for women in entrepreneurship, but just 41st for the number of women in top management.

That’s according to a new study conducted by German digital bank N26, which measures female opportunity and achievement around the world.

The study, which compiled comparable data for 100 countries from sources such as the World Bank, OECD, Unesco, and the United Nations, examined a number of key issues including the number of female leaders per country, the number of women working and studying in Stem fields, the gender wage gap, access to education, legislation surrounding women’s rights, and women’s access to paid maternity leave.

Ireland ranks highly in a number of areas examined, including on salary level and the gender wage gap, female access to education, women in entrepreneurship, and women working in Stem.

However, we perform poorly, especially when compared to our Western European neighbours, in areas such as female political leadership, total women in government and women in management, where we trail behind the UK, France, Spain, Switzerland, and The Netherlands.

According to the study, Norway offered the highest score across each category followed by Finland and Iceland in second and third place, respectively. Ireland ranks 34th overall.

Louisa Meehan, president of Network Ireland, said Ireland’s rankings regarding women in government and managerial positions speak to “a persistent culture” where women are less likely to move into positions of high power and influence in the state.

“This is something we need to actively work on,” she said. “It’s a fact that having gender equality at work, in government, and in the home, results in a more inclusive and productive society.

Ms Meehan said it comes as no surprise that Irish women “punch above their weight” when it comes to the international ranking of female entrepreneurs.

“The creativity and determination of women I see working for themselves, particularly this year, always amazes me,” she said.

Emma Kerins, head of policy and public affairs, Chambers Ireland, said Ireland’s relatively high score in entrepreneurship and Stem reflects “the high quality of education in Ireland and the significant strides made by industry to reduce occupational segregation". 

However, our poorer score on the leadership and management index “is a cause for concern", she said. 

 “The causes of such a gap are complex, but when we look at comparator countries like Norway, Finland and Iceland, we get a stronger sense of what might be at the root of poorer metrics," Ms Kerins said.

“Specifically, access to affordable childcare in Ireland, although improving, is still a significant challenge for working families. Further, the vast majority of caring responsibilities are still carried out by women. 

“This imbalance seems to contribute to higher participation in part-time work, fewer opportunities to progress to senior management positions, and a lower labour participation rate generally.” 

Ms Kerins is concerned that existing gaps will be exacerbated by Covid-19, as data suggests women are carrying more of the load when it comes to caring responsibilities and home duties.

A survey of nearly 1,500 women by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) in May revealed that some 85% of women believed their caring responsibilities had increased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If this is not reversed, we might be looking at wider pay gaps and lower labour participation rates in the years ahead,” she warned.

“If we are to improve outcomes for women and significantly reduce the gap in leadership and management, we need to make a lot more progress in making quality childcare affordable and accessible to families.

“In addition to more state investment in affordable childcare, Chambers Ireland would support a shift to a more flexible workplace, as well as increased shared parental leave,” she concluded.

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