New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that Irish businesses continue to increase female representation at both senior executive and board level, albeit slowly.
However, the number of females in Chief Financial Officer positions continues to fall.
Carried out every two years, the CSO Gender Balance in Business Survey looks at female representation among senior executive teams and boards of directors in large enterprises with 250 or more employees on January 1st of this year.
It is the third time since 2019 that the data has been captured and almost 700 enterprises were surveyed, with 69% completing it, the CSO said.
The results show that 25% of Directors on boards here are women, an increase from almost 22% in 2021.
Representation levels were broadly similar in both Irish-owned as well as foreign-owned firms.
The research also found an increase in female Chairpersons, from 14% in 2021 to 19% in 2023.
At Chief Executive level 19% were women in 2023 compared with more than 13% in 2021.
There was also a slight increase in the overall number of female senior executives this year, rising to 30.4% in 2023 from 29.7% in 2021.
The level of female senior execs was slightly higher in foreign-owned firms here than it was in Irish-owned businesses.
But the data on the number of females at Chief Financial Officer level was less encouraging, falling to 25.7% this year from 28.1% in 2021, and 29.7% in 2019.
Today’s figures also show that almost one in four enterprises had at least 40% female representation at board level this year, compared with 18.4% in 2021.
41.4% of enterprises also said they had set targets for female representation at Senior Executive level this year.
When it came to senior executive appointments, 34.8% of female appointments were internal, compared to 37.9% external.
Sector by sector, female representation at senior executive level was highest in services, as well as accommodation and food services and financial and insurance.
It was lowest in construction.
Gillian Harford, Country Executive of the 30% Club, told RTÉ’s News at One that it was good to have this data as many EU countries do now have this. She also complimented the response rate, saying more than 500 organisations across Ireland took part.
The 30% Club is a global organisation led by Chairs and CEOs to increase gender diversity at board and senior management level.
“For the first time, we have very comprehensive data across a number of areas, and it is great to see the progress – and it’s also great to see the focus on C-suite as well as boards because feeder roles are really important in terms of pipeline,” Ms Harford said.
She said that progress has been seen across financial services, but even with areas like construction, which have a still relatively low female representation, have shown a significant increase from the last time the survey was done two years ago.
She said that gender equality on a worldwide frame brings value, but it must be applied to the top tables and not just across organisations.
“There is an initial value in terms of having gender balance in total across your organisation, but that advantage becomes far more exacerbated when you get gender balance where the senior decisions are made,” Ms Harford said.
Commenting on today’s figures, Chambers Ireland’s chief executive Ian Talbot said that seeing the number of women-led businesses rise from being only one-in-seven in 2021 to almost one-in-five in 2023 demonstrate how quickly change can happen when businesses and boards prioritise female appointments.
But he said that despite the significant improvements, today’s report also demonstrates how much further we still have to go.
“For many of the businesses involved, these new appointments will have been a challenge to deliver and will have required many years of effort to develop a culture that was both willing to develop the talent of women within the organisation, and also open to recognising the leadership potential in women from outside the organisation,” he said.
“This is a battle that needs to be won in every business, if we are to see women rise to their full potential across the labour force and if we are to ensure that their skills and talent are both recognised and employed to their fullest extent,” Mr Talbot said.
“One of the greatest constraints on our economy is the talent that has been overlooked merely because its possessor is a woman, we must not keep making that mistake,” he added.
Karen O’Reilly, founder of flexible employment agency Employflex, pointed out that the sample in today’s study is only representative of 69% of 700 companies surveyed and the types of companies that would respond are probably going to be scoring high on gender balance to begin with.
“From our perspective at Employflex and talking to women every day who approach us seeking flexible work, we know that women are burnt out and are leaving senior roles, particularly mothers who are experiencing the motherhood penalty, while trying to juggle it all,” Ms O’Reilly said.
She cautioned that companies who are not open to flexibility in the workplace are at a high risk of losing these experienced women.
“Many women feel they cannot ask for flexibility as this will negatively impact their career trajectory and also the fact their male colleagues generally do not avail of flexible work practices such as reduced hours, remote work or take their parental leave,” she said.