Women’s Council calls for 40% gender quota on corporate boards 'to end exclusion'

Women’s Council calls for 40% gender quota on corporate boards 'to end exclusion'

Almost one in five Irish companies (19%) had no female directors in September 2020, and just 27% of all new board appointments in 2020 were female. Picture: iStock

The National Women’s Council wants the Government to establish a 40% legislative quota for gender balance on non-State boards after a report found voluntary targets failed to have any meaningful impact and women "continue to be excluded from the rooms of power".

Speaking at the report launch on Thursday, director of the NWC Orla O’Connor said: “Our report indicates that all-male boards and executive director appointments continue to be stubbornly resistant to change. Despite often better educational outcomes, women continue to be overlooked and undervalued by an outdated set of policies and practices.” 

The report into female representation on corporate boards found women remain significantly underrepresented in senior leadership roles, accounting for just 22.4% of board members in Irish companies in September 2020.

Almost one in five Irish companies (19%) had no female directors in September 2020, and just 27% of all new board appointments in 2020 were female, down from 50% between March to September 2019.

In addition, none of the 13 new executive directors appointed between March 2019 and September 2020 were women.

'Excluded from the rooms of power'

Ms O'Connor said the lack of women in leadership "means they are excluded from the rooms of power, where key decisions affecting their lives are made. This has serious consequences for their lives and entrenches gender inequalities.” 

She also highlighted how many women have had to leave the workforce or downshift their careers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic due to increased caring responsibilities.

“A growing number of studies make a business case for increasing the number of women in leadership roles. Including women leads to greater innovation, higher productivity, and better working conditions,” said Ms O’Connor.

The NWC’s leadership co-ordinator Emma DeSouza, said, “It is obvious that a voluntary target-led approach has not produced the results necessary to justify the continuation of soft measures. There is robust international evidence that legislative quotas work well.

Quotas redistribute power at the top of the labour market, which results in significant trickle-down benefits, both in terms of improving financial performance but also for women at all levels in a company.” 

The NWC is recommending a three-year implementation period for the quota, with a required benchmark of 50% mandatory improvement each year. This will ensure that a gender balance of 40% will be reached after four years of enactment.

To monitor progress, the NWC recommends the creation of a State committee dedicated to publishing regular reports on gender composition in non-State boardrooms. It also recommends appropriate sanctions for non-compliance.

“Our board rooms should be reflective of society today – it’s time to balance the odds,” Ms O’Connor concluded.

The call for a legislative quota echoes that of the Citizen’s Assembly, which also recommended a mandatory 40% gender quota earlier this year.

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