Legally, at least 40% of corporate board seats must go to women, says the National Women’s Council.
Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council (NWC), says, “A legislative quota of 40% women on non-state boards is a blunt instrument, but a necessary tool if we are to enact meaningful change.”
The NWC commissioned Dr Pauline Cullen to conduct and write a research report that examined the representation of women in senior roles and decision-making spaces.
The report – Increasing gender balance on boards – says the pace of change is too slow. “If we are to make real the concept of equality for this generation, substantive changes are required. Quotas are designed to jump-start women’s representation.”
When it comes to increasing gender balance at the top of Irish companies, progress has been painfully sluggish. As of September 2020, women comprise only 27.4% of ISEQ 20 directors, and 16.3% of directors of other Irish listed companies are female, amounting to an average of 22.4%, women on the boards of all Irish listed companies. 19% of all companies had no female directors.
Norway led the way back in 2003
The legislative approach was first seen in Norway, where a 40% gender quota for public limited companies was introduced in 2003, with a grace period until 2008 to reach the target.
Female representation had increased only gradually before 2003, but then jumped from 16% in 2004 to 37% in 2007, and finally reached the 40% target in 2008, and 42.5% in 2020.
As this progress shows, promoting gender balance on boards through statutory intervention is the surest way to boost women’s representation on boards compared to other measures taken by individuals, firms, or industries.
Why diversity at the top matters
This report also outlines the benefits of more women on boards for society and business. The debate about improving gender balance on boards should not end with gender quotas.
Women’s quotas may be the first step toward redefining leadership, merit, skill and the work-life balance, thereby improving their social and economic status.
Quotas also may not include women in all their diversity.
“It is increasingly recognised that diversity, equity and inclusion requires an intersectional approach that includes race, ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+ in actions to diversify economic decision making,” concludes the report.