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Unconscious Bias Top Barrier to Boardroom for Women in Ireland

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Unconscious gender bias and a lack of access to the same networks as men are the top barriers to boardroom entry for women, according to a new survey by IoD Ireland.

‘Diversity in the Boardroom 2019 – Are We Making Progress?’ by the Institute of Directors in Ireland, highlights an increase in support for gender targets at board level among business leaders in Ireland over the past two years.

23% of respondents said that women make up less than 10% of the boards on which they sit. When asked if they thought this percentage had increased in the past two years, 59% said that it had not.

The survey compares its findings with those of a similar one conducted by the IoD Ireland in 2017, and highlighted that not much had changed in the period.

 

Frustratingly, male respondents cite the ‘lack of a large enough pool of suitably qualified candidates’ as the main barrier to appointing more women.

 

Unconscious bias

Collectively, men and women see unconscious bias as the main barrier that women face when being appointed to boards, and this has increased by 11%, from 32% in 2017 to 43% in 2019.

However, when the results are broken down by gender, female respondents no longer see unconscious bias as the main barrier (63% in 2017, down to 53% in 2019), but rather cite access to the same networks of contacts as men as the main reason, a jump of 10% from 44% in 2017 to 54% in 2019.

Frustratingly, male respondents cite the ‘lack of a large enough pool of suitably qualified candidates’ as the main reason, down from 44% in 2017.

 

Maura Quinn, CEO, Institute of Directors, said:

“While there is now greater awareness of the imperative for gender diversity on boards, nothing substantially has changed in the composition of boards over the last two years. It appears this lack of progress has resulted in an increased call for gender targets and we must heed this call to ensure there is real traction on this issue in the future.”

 

Gender Quotas & Targets

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 39% of respondents believe that gender targets rather than mandatory quotas should be introduced to increase the number of women on boards, an increase of 7% on the 2017 survey findings.
  •  When the results are broken down by gender, it shows an increase of 6% more women and an increase of 8% more men are in favour of gender targets, compared with 2017.
  • 17% of respondents believe that gender quotas are the most effective way to increase the number of women on boards (this was 18% in 2017).

 

Maura Quinn commented:

“Inclusion is a key precursor to diversity. So it’s critical that the corporate culture, a core responsibility of the board, helps to drive initiatives, such as coaching and mentoring, to encourage change throughout the organisation in an equitable way. Any gaps, biases and discriminatory behaviour – unconscious or not – can then be identified and addressed.”

“It’s also about creating a culture where women feel they can have the same access to opportunities as men, and so in turn can take their seat in the boardroom.”

 

The survey was completed by 381 directors and business leaders (60% male, 40% female), who are members of the IoD Ireland. In addition, 84% of the respondents are current board members, with the remaining 16% in senior executive roles.

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