Business News

Opposition to gender quotas rises as women remain underrepresented in Irish business

By Business & Finance
07 March 2014

Support for the use of quotas to boost the number of women on the boards of large listed companies has fallen in the past year, according to new research published by Grant Thornton today, the eve of International Women’s Day.

The data gathered for the report, entitled ‘Women in Business: from classroom to boardroom’, shows 31% of Irish executives surveyed are in favour of quotas, compared to 37% last year. Ireland’s increasingly negative view on quotas runs counter to global trends where the EU average in favour of quotas has risen to 41% (33% in 2013), and globally to 45% (37% in 2013).

Just 18% of Irish boards have a female member, according to the survey, up from 17% last year, below the EU average but in line with global norms. The European Commission has a set a target for listed companies to have 40% female board representation by 2020.

Progress has been made on women’s representation in senior management positions, which is now at a 5 year high of 23%, and up from 21% in 2013. Only 8% of companies surveyed have plans to proactively hire more women into senior management this year.

Sinead Donovan, partner at Grant Thornton said: “There is a reduced appetite in Ireland for the use of quotas and positive discrimination as a means to improve women’s representation in business. With just 18% of board roles filled by women there is little or no chance of Ireland hitting the level targeted by the European Commission by 2020.

“Personally I have mixed feelings about quotas – if they shine a spotlight on the shortfall of women on boards then that is helpful, but we certainly do not want to get to a point where woman are simply brought in to make up the numbers.”

Areas in which businesses could do more to help working women include:

  • Supportive environment for working mothers: Continue progress on availability of flexible working arrangements, which are now offered by 71% of companies (53% in 2013)
  • Improved mentoring: Widen availability of mentoring programmes for women: just 4% of companies surveyed have implemented programmes to support women’s progress
  • More women graduates: Companies should continue to boost their intake of female graduates and universities should do more to even out the gender mix in science and maths courses.

Donovan continued:“There are no simple solutions, but increasing support for working mothers and enhanced opportunities for female graduates are likely to play a crucial role in making sure that we have more woman coming through in younger age cohorts to take senior positions.

“That greater diversity in decision-making produces better outcomes is no longer up for debate. For businesses, better decisions mean stronger growth, so it is in their interests to facilitate the path of women from the classroom to the boardroom.”

The ‘Women in Business: from classroom to boardroom’ is available below.

GT Women in Business Report 2014