Carol Andrews, Chairperson of 30% Club Ireland, an organisation dedicated to gender balance at all levels of business, tells us that while the cost of childcare, and family priorities, are key factors preventing women in Ireland from reaching board & executive level, confidence, networking skills and inflexible working options are also hindering women’s journey to senior management in this country.
What is the purpose of the 30% Club and have there been improvements in the level of female representation on Irish boards and in executive management since you launched?
The 30% Club Ireland, formally launched in January 2015, is part of an International Organisation – founded in the UK in 2010. Our aim is to develop a diverse pool of talent for all businesses through the efforts of our Chair and CEO members who are committed to better gender balance at all levels of their organisations. Business leadership is key to our mission, taking the issue beyond a specialist diversity effort and into mainstream talent management.
We do not believe mandatory quotas are the right approach. Instead, we support a voluntary approach in order to realise meaningful, sustainable change.
We believe that gender balance on boards not only encourages better leadership and governance, but diversity further contributes to better all-round board performance, and ultimately increased corporate performance for both companies and their shareholders.
We now have almost 200 confirmed supporters in Ireland and our focus is on gaining visible and practical support for gender balance at all levels from business leaders in private, public, State, local and multinational organisations. The 30% Club approach – collaborative, concerted business-led efforts – can help accelerate progress towards better gender balance at all levels of organisations.
We do not believe mandatory quotas are the right approach. Instead, we support a voluntary approach in order to realise meaningful, sustainable change. 30% Club efforts are complementary to individual company efforts and existing networking groups, adding to these through collaboration and the visible and voluntary commitment of senior business leaders. All of the work of the 30% Club is on a volunteer basis, with ongoing support and funding of our initiatives provided by a selection of our key supporters e.g. BNY Mellon, Arthur Cox, PWC, Google, KPMG, Accenture, MercerCPL, Irish Life, Microsoft, Ibec, DCU, IMI and many others.
One of our core beliefs is that women in management today are the pipeline for business leaders of the future. With this front of mind, we initiated research in 2015 to provide annual data as a baseline to assess ongoing improvement. In the research conducted for our recent ‘Women In Management: The Leadership Pipeline Report’ (2017) – which was conducted in partnership with Ibec and Dublin City University- we highlighted that the participation rates of women at all levels in the management hierarchy have increased since 2016, however there continues to be a drop in female representation at higher levels of management which shows that gender inequality remains a challenge. There also continues to be significant sectoral variation in female representation. This year the % of women holding CEO positions stands at 19%, a slight increase from 17% in 2016, and 14% in 2015.
Ireland is still a developing country in terms of women’s participation at the more senior levels of management.
How does female representation on Irish boards stack up against the U.K?
The 30% Club launched as a campaign in the UK in 2010 with a goal of achieving a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards – currently the figure stand at 27.9% up from 12.5%. In the FTSE 33 companies have already reached 30%. Board level participation in Ireland is at 13%.
We work very closely with our UK colleagues and the Ireland Chapter is viewed internationally as having delivered significant impact in the two years since we were formally founded, however we recognise that there is still an enormous challenge in effecting change in this area, and so we were delighted to hear An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar call Irish business leaders to action at our recent CEO/Chairs Conference – “Gender diversity in the boardroom is good for business. It leads to better decisions, reduces the risk of group-think, and improves overall financial performance. Companies which are stuck in the past are not equipping themselves for the future. Gender equality isn’t just good for women; it benefits everyone. We get better results when there is a diversity of views around the table, and as our own history shows, we are weaker when we exclude women’s voices.”
What are the key factors preventing women in Ireland from reaching board / executive level?
Ireland is still a developing country in terms of women’s participation at the more senior levels of management. Whilst there are a number of areas such as cost of childcare, and the decision on whether a man or a woman’s career is the priority in a family that are outside of our areas of expertise, we have identified a number of focus areas, which can hinder a women’s career development. These include confidence, access to further education, poor or no networking skills, inflexible working practices and an absence of mentors who can advise and support their career aspirations.
Fundamentally we want to instil absolute belief and confidence in Irish Women that they can succeed to the highest levels they choose.
Our Executive Education program in partnership with UCD, IMI, Trinity College, NUIG, UL, DCU and RCSI awarded scholarships to a range of women many of whom would not have had the opportunity for such investment without the program. Our partnership with IMI now includes a formal cross company Mentoring Program which is entering its second year and will by the end of 2018 include over 150 women, who will all benefit from the advice and support received.
Our Financial Services sector team have recently published a toolkit to assist companies in setting up gender diversity initiatives, through the sharing of best practice across our supporters. We are also continuing, through our collaboration with our supporter companies, to run or contribute to a range of networking opportunities for women at all levels, and so many of our team will attend and speak at various events for International Women’s Day this week.
Fundamentally we want to instil absolute belief and confidence in Irish Women that they can succeed to the highest levels they choose, and our work in building awareness of the barriers, and influencing change in those areas we have expertise will ensure that happens.
What is the role of the 30% Club Councils in Ireland and are you looking for new members?
Our Council is made up of senior management representation from our supporter companies and organisations, their role is to contribute to our key initiatives, and participate in a forum of exchange of information and shared learning. We hold several events each year to facilitate this with each event focusing on an area identified and we continue to engage new supporter companies and organisations who seek to participate in driving female diversity in Irish business.
Two of our key strategic pillars for 2018 are:
- Women in STEM one of our Steering Committee team Paula Neary, Managing Director in Accenture Ireland provides leadership in this area under her role as STEM sponsor for Accenture Ireland and we are also collaborating with iWish and Connecting Women in Technology to increase diversity in the STEM skills pipeline in Ireland. Accenture have also piloted a program called ‘Girls in STEM’ which facilitates Trainee Teachers working within an organisation during their summer break, aiming to help them understand the opportunities in the workplace for women and encourage their students to study STEM subjects at Leaving Cert level. These organisations are leading in this area – we continue to provide support where appropriate however we remain focused on our specific goals.
- Unconscious bias We have partnered with Dr Melrona Kirrane – DCU Business School, who is a world expert in this area and have run several sessions with our supporter companies. Melrona also provides expert advice in this area to a number of our Supporter organisations. In addition, under the leadership of Steering Committee Member – Peter Cosgrove (CPL) we have pioneered a Train the Trainer Program specifically designed for Men In Leadership focused on building inclusion together – with elements such as Gender Conditioning and Unconscious Bias, to enable Ireland’s Male Business Leaders to understand how they can affect change in their organisations.
One addition we made to our annual survey this year was to canvass opinion on matters related to gender diversity in organisations. Specifically we wanted to understand whether gender diversity is part of organisations strategies and whether resulting initiatives are funded. Over 75% of organisations responded that they are in fact doing both – which gives us confidence that gender diversity is now a significant element of organisational life in Ireland. The time however for action and progress is now – so we will continue tirelessly in our efforts to improve the achievement of measurable change in this area in the coming year.