Gender quota legislation is necessary to achieve greater representation of women on corporate boards but it should be removed once quotas have been reached, a Bank of Ireland director has said.
Fiona Muldoon, the former chief executive of FBD Insurance and a non-executive director on the bank’s board, said that companies and women themselves are suffering as a result of the lack of gender diversity on Irish companies’ boards.
It comes as the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has said companies should be required by law to have at least 40 per cent female representation on their corporate boards. It said there should be a three-year implementation period for companies to reach the quota.
Muldoon said: “The argument that you will hear from companies is that there aren’t enough women around and there aren’t enough women of proper experience to reach targets.”
“Making this law for a few years will force a sufficient pool of women.”
But she said that once there are equal numbers of women progressing to senior positions in Irish companies, the gender quotas should be removed.
“If we got there and met the target in three years and then left it in place another three years there would be oodles of qualified women out there. Then the law should be removed,” she said. “I think once people get used to it, once the change has come about and once people stop seeing a room full of the same kinds of people who are all about the same age and the same gender then it never goes back. The genie is out of the bottle at that stage.”
She added: “After that we should be picking based on merit and be living in a world where you are gender blind, sexual-orientation blind, colour blind in terms of race.”
NWCI yesterday launched a report highlighting the lack of female representation in senior leadership roles and in boardrooms of Irish companies.
According to the report women make up only 22.4 per cent of the boards of all Irish-listed companies. The figure rises to 27 per cent for Ireland’s 20 largest listed firms.
It said that 19 per cent of Irish-listed companies had no female directors on their corporate boards.
Between September 2019 and September 2020, 15 new female directors were appointed across 13 companies. This represents only 27 per cent of all new board appointments, a significant reduction on the 50 per cent appointment rate in the period from March 2019 to September 2019.
None of the 13 new executive directors appointed to Irish company boards between September 2019 and September 2020 were women.
Muldoon said: “I think that the company misses something by not having a more diverse group of people on the boards, whether that is diversity in gender, or industry background, or experience or just generally from a life perspective and how your mind works to make a decision.”
“I think men and women make decisions differently, so I do think the company loses out.”
The report said: “NWCI urges the government to establish a 40 per cent quota for gender balance on non-state boards. It should feature a three-year implementation period, with a required benchmark of 50 per cent mandatory improvement each year.”
It said that progress should be monitored by a dedicated state committee, as well as external industry and advocacy groups and that “appropriate sanctions” should be put in place for non-compliance such as financial penalties, and denial of consideration for public subsidies and state contracts.
Orla O’Connor, director of NWCI, said: “Our report clearly indicates that all-male boards and executive director appointments continue to be stubbornly resistant to change.
“Despite often better educational outcomes, women continue to be overlooked and undervalued by an outdated and rigid set of policies and practices.”
O’Connor said the pandemic had further increased these inequalities with women having to leave the labour market owing to increased caring responsibilities.
“As a result, companies risk losing women in leadership and future women leaders and unwinding years of painstaking progress towards gender equality.”
Emma De Souza, NWCI leadership coordinator, said: “It is obvious that a voluntary target-led approach has not produced the results necessary to justify the continuation of soft measures. By contrast there is robust international evidence that legislative quotas work well.”
She added: “Quotas redistribute power at the top of the labour market, which results in significant trickle-down benefits both in terms of improving financial performance [J4MB emphasis: This is demonstrably untrue. The truth is there’s a well-established causal link between appointing more women to boards, and corporate financial DECLINE – and Ms De Souza should know that. The proof it’s an untruth is here. The proof has existed for almost 10 years, and I presented it to a House of Commons inquiry in 2012.] but also for women at all levels in a company.” [J4MB emphasis: In plain English, positive discrimination advances women in preference to men. How is that a “significant trickle-down benefit” for companies?]
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