Business News

International Women’s Day highlights correlation between women in corporate leadership and profitability

By Niamh Mac Sweeney
08 March 2016
Pictured (L-R): Julie Fenton, partner, EY; Sandra Lawler, director, Alternatives; and Anne Heraty, CEO, Cpl Resources

International Women’s Day highlights the benefits for all when gender diversity is present in the workplace, writes Niamh Mac Sweeney.

With only 12% of women present on Irish boards, and given that Ireland ranks 28th out the top 56 countries surveyed for the number of women on boards, are Irish firms limiting there opportunities to improve economic performance and encourage a stronger culture and a more engaged workforce?

These questions and other key issues are being discussed today at the many International Women’s Day events taking place across the country.

A recent report by EY looked at the financial and cultural benefits of gender diversity in business. ‘Is Gender Diversity Profitable?’ a global survey undertaken by EY and The Peterson Institute for International Economics has shown a significant correlation between women in corporate leadership and profitability.

The report shows that an organisation with 30% female leaders could add up to six percentage points to its net margin.

Women's DayThe report was carried out across almost 22,000 publicly traded companies (including 52 in Ireland) from 91 countries worldwide.

The countries with the most women-on-boards are: Norway (40%), Latvia (25%), Italy (24%), Finland (23%) and Bulgaria (22%). Ireland ranks 28th out of the top 56 countries for having women on boards (12%). Of the Irish companies surveyed, the results also indicate that 2% had a female chair and 8% had a female CEO.

Mike McKerr, managing partner of EY Ireland, commented: “Companies that advance women into leadership roles will benefit from more engaged workforces, stronger cultures and improved economic performance. We know that gender-balanced companies achieve better results. As business leaders we need to ask ourselves: Have we made enough progress? Are we helping enough women find their way into leadership roles in order to make our businesses better?”


The report also found that nearly one-third of companies globally have no women in either board or C-suite positions, 60% have no female board members, 50% have no female top executives, and less than 5% have a female CEO.

The report found that most countries are still far below the 30% threshold for women CEOs, and only Norway exceeded this standard for women on company boards. The research also showed that while increasing the number of women directors and CEOs is important, growing the percentage of female leaders in the C-suite would likely benefit the bottom line even more.

“Ensuring gender balance and diversity at all levels in organisations is not just the right thing to do, but companies who do so innovate more and are more successful,” Sandra Lawler, director of Alternatives and former EY Entrepreneur Of The Year (EOY) finalist said.

“However, at no level is this more urgent than at the most senior executive levels, where business and talent strategies are driven. People talk about the war for talent, yet often neglect the potential of this 50% of the workforce. Businesses need to provide the support, the culture and focus on diversity for all our sakes,” she added.

With the shortage of talent emerging as a key constraint for business in Ireland in recent months, the need to develop female leaders is of increasing importance. And the report found that implementing policies relating to viable long-term experience for women (specifically substantial maternity and paternity leave policies) and access to education and elimination of discrimination were found to be of key importance to addressing gender balance and to advancing women in the workplace.

This is indeed the case when it comes to female representation in government and the need to have female decision and policy-makers bring a new perspective to the decision-making process.


Women's DayIreland ranks joint 86th – with North Korea and South Korea – of 140 countries worldwide in relation to political representation of women.

According to Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, independent candidate for the National University of Ireland (NUI) Seanad Election 2016, the gender quota requisite in this year’s General Election demonstrated progress in encouraging women to go into politics and is on the right path to achieving the gender balance we need.

“The figures speak for themselves,” O’Malley Dunlop said. “There were more women put forward as candidates and more women elected to Dáil Éireann because of the introduction of gender quotas. It’s the most practical, reasonable course of action to address and fix the historic under-representation of women in Irish politics.”


In Dublin, over 300 women and men will gather to celebrate International Women’s Day in The Shelbourne Hotel, with a major event being organised by Network Ireland, the organisation focused on the personal and professional development of women.

The theme of the event, ‘A New Age of Equality’, features a range of national and international business people, policy makers and influencers, discussing equality and diversity in decision-making positions in business, politics and media.

President of Network Ireland Deirdre Waldron commented: “There’s never been a better time to be a woman ambitious for her career or her business. We are starting to be recognised for the valuable contributions we can make in business, in our communities and at all levels of government. At this event we will be discussing how other countries are faring on equality and through this we will have a clearer understanding, learn from best international practices and reflect on how we are doing in Ireland in embracing and influencing policy to support equality and diversity.”

Women's DayKeynote speaker is American photojournalist Gabrielle Motola, who has worked across many countries and is now based in Iceland working on a project, engaging with the country’s top influencers and policy makers who have made Iceland the global leader for equality.

MC for the event is journalist and broadcaster Elaine Crowley, and participants in the political panel discussion include Joan Weinman, co-chair of Equal Voice, a Canadian multi-partisan organisation dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada; Her Excellency, Manuela Breazu, the Ambassador of Romania to Ireland; and Aine Collins TD.

On the business panel three accomplished women including Leslie Kavanagh, one of California’s top realtors; Jessica Hayden, the Innovation Academy’s head of Programme Development; Carolanne Henry, Commercial Operations director Vodafone Ireland; Sarita Johnston, manager, Female Entrepreneurship, Enterprise Ireland; and Orlagh Hunt, head of HR, AIB, will all give insights into their experiences of gender diversity in business.


Other events will take place across Ireland. The ‘Celebration, Connection and Inspiration for Women in Business in Dublin’ event, sponsored by Deloitte, will take place in the Davenport Hotel at 6pm.

Organised by Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the Women in Business networks from Fingal, Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown LEOs, the event will feature a keynote address from Julie O’Neill, strategic management consultant at Join the Dots, former Secretary General of the Department of Transport and board member at Ryanair.

Other leading business women and academics will gather in the boardroom of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) for the ‘Enabling Leadership – 100 years on from the revolutionary women of 1916’ event taking place there.

Aoibhinn Ni SuilleabhainGuests, including RCSI medical student and current Rose of Tralee, Elysha Brennan will be welcomed by the dean of the Faculty of Medicine, professor Hannah McGee and the forum will be chaired by academic and broadcaster Dr Aoibhinn Ni Suilleabhain.

Panellists will include head of Nursing and Midwifery at RCSI professor, Zena Moore; CEO of CPL Resources, Anne Heraty; CEO of Keelings Fruit, Caroline Keeling; as well as RCSI council member and consultant surgeon Deborah McNamara and professor of molecular medicine, Catherine Godson.