More roles for women on boards is great, but what about the c-suite?
In corporate boardrooms and executive suites, men of a certain age and socioeconomic background have dominated these arenas for the past century.
The good news is that some progress at the board level has been achieved, particularly in the UK and the EU. However, much more work must be done to attain gender-equal boards and c-suites with people from more diverse backgrounds.
The good news
The good news is that women’s share of board seats at Britain’s 350 biggest listed companies reached 40% for the first time in 2022, a UK government-backed report shows. This is three years ahead of plan.
Policymakers and investors increasingly focus on improving boardroom diversity, citing the benefits of a broader range of experiences.
According to the business-led FTSE Women Leaders Review, FTSE350 companies were asked to increase the number of roles for women on boards and leadership teams to 40% by 2025. The board-level target was achieved in 2022.
“Reaching the 40% target for women on boards early is cause for celebration. It also shows that more progress is possible,” says Diageo’s CEO, Ivan Menezes.
“The powerful combination of clear goals and effective policy has enabled companies to demonstrate their commitment to positive change and reap the rewards of a diverse workforce.”
However, much more needs to be done to ensure that boards embrace gender diversity and ‘background’ diversity.
For example, of the FTSE 350 firms with 40% women on boards, just four of the 350 businesses have a female chief executive and chair.
This was echoed by Direct Line Group’s CEO, Penny James who said, “There’s been progress in terms of overall representation of women on executive committees and on boards but not enough change in the key decision-making positions.”
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A better balance is needed in the c-suite
Public companies in Ireland have an average female board representation of 32%, according to figures provided by Balance for Better Business (B4BB), a government-sponsored business-led review group established in 2018 to ensure women are represented on boards and in senior positions.
In the largest publicly-listed companies in the EU, 30.6% of board members are women, with significant regional differences (over 45% in France and just over 8% in Cyprus).
However, the percentage of women in key roles is very low in Ireland, mainly in key decision-making positions, with no female chairs among the Iseq 20.
Also, there are only three women among 36 chief executives of listed Irish companies.
“While progress to date at the board level of Irish business is to be welcomed, there is still much more work to do to ensure that women can advance into senior leadership roles which are still predominantly held by men,” said Aongus Hegarty, co-chair of Balance for Better Business.
Read more: Business group warns about lack of women at the top
Women on boards directive
The EU parliament issued a directive in 2023 to increase the number of women leaders in large companies across the EU and the number of roles for women on boards.
The “women on boards” EU directive mandates a 40% female quota on corporate boards by 2026 and has been hailed as a landmark ruling for gender equality.
In addition, the EU set a target of 33% for women in all senior roles, including executive directors.
EC president Ursula von der Leyen said: “After ten years since the European Commission proposed this directive, it is high time we break the glass ceiling.”
What is happening in the corporate world is clear. Policymakers and corporations are slowly embracing gender diversity in the boardroom but the number of women in c-suites and in CEO positions remains very low.
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Read more: The EU approves board gender quotas