Women lead way in senior finance roles

Irish businesses are world leaders in promoting women to senior financial roles such as chief financial officers , but bottom of the league for top jobs such as chief executive, according to a new survey by accountancy firm Grant Thornton.

Today is International Women’s Day and the Grant Thornton survey ranks Ireland third in Europe and ninth globally for women in senior financial positions.

Women make up 21% of all chief financial officers in Irish businesses. This compares positively with the EU’s total of just 11% of women in senior financial positions, and the global figure of just 13% of women chief financial officers .

Grant Thornton partner Jillian O’Sullivan said: “More and more Irish women are pursuing successful careers in financial positions, and the number of women at a senior level will only increase in the future.

“In our own company, two out of five senior managers are women. And in the last five years, we have seen a 50:50 split in the gender of new graduates being recruited. We take on about 30 or 40 each year.

“I joined Grant Thornton 20 years ago, and I have seen a lot of females climb through the ranks, with many making it to partner level in that time.”

Ms O’Sullivan said that opportunities are emerging again for accountants, and this competition to keep top performers has led Irish financial services firms in particular to be more open to flexible working hours with staff.

One of the main pro-female workplace incentives, flexible hours have long become the norm in places like Thailand, Russia and Hong Kong, all of whom score highly across all of Grant Thornton’s gender charts.

Ms O’Sullivan said: “Thailand has always scored highly in terms of flexible hours. That may be because a strong family unit is a core part of their culture.

“Irish businesses are also quite flexible. The research shows that 55% of Irish companies have flexible work schedules in place. Financial firms are quite willing to look at shorter weeks and working from home, and they are managing this with the right attitude.”

However, the gender balance is less harmonious when it comes to chief executive roles, with women occupying just 5% of CEO roles in Ireland — leaving Ireland ranked last in Europe, and 35th globally. Other scores included Australia (30%), Thailand (29%), Italy (24%), France (15%). Malaysia, the US and Britain are on 6%.

O’Sullivan said: “Even though we are in line with global and European averages, with women accounting for 21% of Irish senior management teams (Global: 21%, EU: 24%), there is clearly still work to be done with just 5% of CEO roles in Ireland held by women.

“There is quite a push on in Ireland to have quotas for women in the board rooms of companies, and in the political arena.

“The Nordic countries have done that.

“Their general response was that, in the first year, it felt like women werebeing appointed as a token.

“After a few years, they then said they were really seeing the benefits for their organisations of having a greater balance.”

Other findings in the Grant Thornton study found that Russia has the highest rate of women working in senior management at 46%.


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