The pace of change is too slow: Women now make up 13% of CEOs at big companies in Ireland

FIGURES RELEASED BY the Central Statistics Office (CSO) today show that three in ten (30%) of senior executives in large businesses in Ireland are female. 

The research found that small gains have been made in female representation at a senior management level within large businesses over the past two years. 

Women now make up 13% of CEOs and 28% of CFOs (Chief Financial Officers) at large companies in Ireland, while the proportion of women represented on boards increased from 20% in 2019 to 22% in 2021. 

This is the second time the Central Statistics Office has run a survey asking large businesses of over 250 employees for information on their senior executive team and board of directors. The survey was sent to over 700 businesses across the country.

Commenting on the findings from the survey, Colin Harvey, a statistician from the Central Statistics Office, noted that men hold 87% of CEO positions, down slightly from 89% in 2019. 

“Administrative and support services had the highest proportion of female board membership at 33%, while construction had the highest male board membership at 94%,” he noted. 

Women made up 30.3% of board membership in the financial and insurance sector, an industry that is historically male-dominated.

Female representation among board chairpersons increased from 7% in 2019 to 14% in 2021.

Women make up an increased number of new appointments to boards. Of the chairpersons who have been on the board for less than a year, 21% were female and 79% male. Among those who had five or more years of experience on the board, 11% were female and 89% male. 

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has urged the government to establish a 40% legislative quota for gender balance on non-state boards with “appropriate sanctions” in place for non-compliance.

Emma DeSouza, NWCI women in leadership coordinator, said that the figures show “that the pace of change is too slow. The increases in female representation are extremely limited and marginal with risk of backsliding and regression”.

“That women account for only 13% of CEO’s in Ireland’s large enterprises shows the stark disparity between women and men in decision-making spaces.”

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“This is exactly why NWCI is recommending a 40% gender quota for women on publicly-listed company boards. Evidence shows that such measures can have a significant trickle-down effect and it is clear from these figures that Ireland needs real change,” she added.

Rosemary Delaney, the managing editor of Women Mean Business, an online-only magazine dedicated to highlighting the work of businesswomen and female entrepreneurs, said that “it looks as though we are making some ground across senior roles but it’s at such a snail’s pace.”

“Role models are so vital if we are to see more women applying for and securing leadership positions – the adage ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ comes to mind.”

“In the bigger scheme of things, I think it’s vital to see more women in senior leadership roles which should, in turn, lead to more women at the boardroom table.”

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