Supporting better gender equality in Irish organisations

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As we approach International Women’s Day on Tuesday, 8th March, Sarah Fagan, Managing Director at Adare Human Resource Management looks at existing and proposed legislation to support better gender equality in the Irish workforce. We also look at some initiatives that employers could implement to support a better-balanced workforce.

Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021

Demonstrating its commitment to gender balance in the workplace, the House of the Oireachtas passed the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 on 13th July 2020 which was signed into law by the President on 15th July 2021. The Act requires every state body and many private sector organisations to report their gender pay information along with the supporting narrative.

While initially relating to larger organisations of 250+ employees, all employers can expect to be impacted by the Act over the coming years and should therefore take the appropriate measures now.

Under the Act, organisations are obliged:

  • to analyse and publicly report the pay gap between its male and female employees, including bonuses.
  • to publish a statement setting out the reasons for the differences and any proposed actions to be taken by the employer to eliminate the gap. This element is seen as crucial as it sets out the narrative the employer is putting forward, which can help or hinder its efforts to attract talent, particularly female talent.

Despite the introduction of the Act, our most recent HR Barometer Report (November 2021) found that just one in ten (11%) organisations currently record their gender pay gap. However, two thirds (69%) believe their gender pay gap is in line with the national average of 14.4% or below it, which is somewhat surprising given the low levels analysing their data.

Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021

While the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 helps support the overall gender balance, there is still an issue with senior positions in Irish organisations. According to the Gender Balance in Business Survey 2021 from the Central Statistics Office just 13.4% of CEOs in Ireland are female, up slightly on 2019 when the figure stood at 11.5%[2].

The same survey found that 14% of Chairpersons of Irish companies were female, women made up 21.8% of Boards of Directors and 28.1% were Chief Financial Officers.

In 2021, more than a third (36%) of persons appointed to Senior Executive positions who were in their role for less than one year were women while 24% of Senior Executives in their roles for five or more years were women. In 2021, three quarters (76%) of all Senior Executives in their roles for five or more years were men. 

To help address this issue a new Private Members’ Bill was brought forward in October 2021. The Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021, would, if enacted, establish a 40% quota for female representation on company boards. The Bill includes a stipulation that 33% of a company’s board must be women after the first year of its enactment. This quota would then rise to 40% after three years.

The Bill would require companies to submit a statutory declaration to be made by the chairperson of the governing body, e.g., board, in the Annual Return or annual financial statements that the gender balance requirements have been complied with. If unable to do so, they will be required to disclose the reasons why.

What can organisations do to improve gender equality?

To help achieve a more meaningful gender balance, practical policies and practices should be put in place to support the intention for real change in this area. There is a need to implement measurable, practical strategies to genuinely shift the scales in favour of a fairer and more transparent gender balanced landscape, including setting meaningful targets for change and involving both genders to deliver a better balance.

In addition to the ethical argument for gender balance, there are additional far-reaching benefits to an equal opportunity workplace. We know getting the balance right across organisations drives a more successful and cohesive business environment for everybody. It creates better workplaces and better decision making led by an engaged workforce with opportunities for everyone.

Encourage employees to highlight bias: People can be unconsciously biased so bias training should be introduced for all staff, which can be part of Diversity and Inclusion training. Education is a key tool in raising awareness of gender equality. It is also important for employers to review all documentation to ensure gender neutral language is used, e.g. job specifications, job adverts, etc.

Appropriate supports: Ensuring there are the right supports in place for female employees helps create a better working environment. For example, approximately 600,000 women are affected by menopause at any one time. And, up to 60% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms report that it has a negative impact on their work. Many feel they miss out on promotions and training, and report that they lose confidence in their work.

Flexible working arrangements: During the pandemic, it became clear that implementing flexible working arrangements often had little or no impact on productivity. A permanent implementation of flexible working arrangements can support parents share “stay-at-home” responsibilities and can help to redress the gender balance at work.

Gender pay gap: Employers need to look to address any gender pay gap in their organisation and ensure all employees are remunerated equally for the same job.

Gender-balanced recruitment: Job descriptions should promote greater gender equality and interview panels should have a diverse and gender balanced composition.
For change to happen, the workplace must become a more welcoming environment for both men and women. Balance is not exclusively a women’s issue, it involves everyone from the top down, and success in shifting the dial comes when balance is embraced by all.

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