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As we approach International Women’s Day on 8th March, Derek McKay, Managing Director at Adare Human Resource Management looks at the gender balance issue in Irish organisations and what can be done to address some of the issues in getting the balance right, particularly at senior levels.
Research released last year by the 30% Club stated that while the split when entering the workforce is 50:50, this gradually changes as the levels of management increases. In Ireland, just 8% – 12% of CEOs in large companies are women. Announcements such as that by Aer Lingus that they have appointed its first female CEO, Lynne Embleton, are much less frequent than the announcements of appointments of males to CEO roles.
The Central Statistics Office released some very telling information based on a Gender Balance in Business Survey in 2019. It found that just one in nine (11.5%) Irish CEOs were women, two in ten women were on Boards of Directors, less than one in ten were Chairpersons while three in ten women were Senior Executives.
So why do we not see more women in top positions? There’s no getting from the fact that business has historically been seen as male dominated and this has been slow to change. There are a number of reasons for this but the obvious one is the decision to start a family and impacting on a woman’s chances of getting promoted. There is agreement across the board that more must be done to get more balance, particularly at senior level, but how to achieve this is something that continues to be debated.
Gender balance initiatives
As part of our annual HR Barometer research, we asked organisations about their intention to introduce gender balance initiatives this year. Just one in ten (11%) said that they are considering implementing initiatives to address the issue in their organisation. And those who had introduced measures, the top three initiatives were Awareness Campaign around Gender, Recruitment Drive and Gathering Gender Pay Data.
One of the main barriers that has been frequently highlighted for more women not progressing in the workplace is flexibility around managing family life with work. If one good thing has come as a result of the current health crisis, it is that employers have had no other choice but to move to a remote working model, thus affording the same level of flexibility that wasn’t there pre-Covid.
It is generally acknowledged that previously requesting remote working arrangements would have been difficult to get managerial consent, but the last twelve months have demonstrated that remote working can benefit both the employer and employee. Therefore, greater flexibility around working arrangements will become more common among Irish organisations, helping to share parental responsibilities and level the playing field somewhat.
In a submission to the Citizen Assembly last year, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recommended that the Government implement a system of statutory gender quotas for company board membership. This was made against the background of the CSO information mentioned previously. While there are arguments for and against, this idea is in line with other countries such as Norway, which has strict gender quotas for boards of listed companies.
Regardless of any introduction of gender quotas (or sometimes what is seen as more acceptable are gender targets), organisations need to ensure there are clear pathways for female employees and that they have the necessary supports to succeed and progress to senior levels. But gender balance is not about getting more women into senior positions; It’s about getting the right person with the right skills into the position they deserve, regardless of their gender.
Gender pay gap
Addressing the gender pay gap has been a topic of discussion for some time with the previous Government committing to introducing legislation to force companies to report their pay information. However, this never happened despite the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill being published in April 2019.
The current Minister for Equality had also given his commitment to bring the Bill before the Dáil in January of this year but that has yet to happen. Despite delays, gender pay reporting is coming and organisations should be addressing any imbalance. Conduct gender pay audits, set gender balance targets and to review HR policies and practices are actions we would advise organisations to do to prepare, while also closely look at how promotions, salary increases and bonuses are implemented to ensure gender balance.
Together with correcting the gender pay gap and implementing the right initiatives for your organisations, this can assist to create a more balanced, inclusive and diverse workforce. Companies need to future-proof their recruitment and promotion eco-system; ensuring there is a balanced pipeline of talent coming through the company.
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 Irish Examiner, 29th March 2020 – “Gender Equality in Business: the work isn’t finished yet”
 Central Statistics Office, May 2019 – “Gender Balance in Business Survey”