News Analysis

Fewer women appointed to top boards in Ireland in 2020

by Alex Crimmins


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Ireland‌ ‌is no longer the European country that appoints the most top-tier female board directors. In 2020, fewer women were appointed to the boards of Ireland’s biggest firms than in the previous year.

In 2019, Ireland had the best rate at which women secured positions on top Irish boards. 60% of new board appointments in Iseq 20 firms were women.

In 2020, however, women filled just 31% of newly available board seats at Iseq 20 firms.

This, according to executive search group Heidrick & Struggles, compares to a European average of 48%.

Fewer appointments can sway the data

In 2020, 36 board positions became available at the 20 biggest companies listed on Dublin’s Iseq index.

According to the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles’ board monitor Europe report, 69% of those positions were filled by men.

Heidrick & Struggles says the drop in female representation is because the pool of directors for Irish listed companies is much smaller than Europe’s. Fewer female appointments each year ‘can sway the data’, it suggests.

Key takeaways – 2020 boardroom trends across Europe

  • According to Heidrick & Struggles’ board monitor Europe report, boards continue to seek out directors with CEO and CFO experience.
  • In Europe, 44% of available board seats were filled by CEOs and CFOs.
  • Boards in 2020 looked for directors who could make an immediate impact. People with previous board experience filled 59% of the seats. A high of 85% was seen in the Netherlands. In Italy, the figure was 30%.
  • The proportion of directors with sustainability experience rose marginally from 10% to 15% as a result of the pandemic and a greater focus on ESG.
  • A nearly even split of available seats across Europe went to men and women executives: 52% to men, 48% to women.
  • Gender and average age varied significantly across EU countries. The highest percentage of new female directors is found in Denmark, at 61%, and the lowest rate is found in Ireland, at 31%.
  • Boards in many countries, including France and Germany, have female director quotas, and now that most boards have reached those quotas, they are adding directors from more diverse backgrounds in other ways.
  • Interestingly, 54% of the seats filled by women were held by active executives, compared to 46% of the seats held by retired executives. This suggests that as boards try to recruit more females, they are also looking for recent executives.
  • Boards in the business services industry in 2020 filled higher shares of seats with directors with experience in their sector than in the prior year. This was a trend across industries in the United States and is likely a result of boards seeking additional operational expertise to help them through the challenges of 2020.
  • Another shift, particularly notable in Europe in 2020, was that both life sciences and technology companies filled markedly higher shares of seats with directors with industrial experience.

You can download the full report here


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