New research has highlighted just how far Ireland's publicly listed companies have to go to achieve better gender diversity on their boards. Consultancy firm Korn Ferry has found that in 2017 13% of Irish board members were female. While this is more than double the figure recorded a decade ago, it is still well behind the average across Europe.

"From a diversity perspective, I think a lot has been achieved over the last ten years," said John Harty, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry. "Ireland is going in the right direction, however clearly from the statistics we've uncovered, a lot more is left to be done."

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In terms of gender balance, Korn Ferry says that just 5% of board members at listed Irish companies were female in 2007. That jumped to 13% in 2017, but remains well below the European Union average of 23%. Perhaps more concerning, however, is the fact that more than 40% of listed Irish firms had no female voice at the top table last year.

According to Mr Harty, Ireland's lacklustre performance compared to other countries can - partially at least - be blamed on the fact that there are no gender quotas in place here at the moment. "Norway, Spain, France - with different iterations - have imposed 40% quotas," he said. "Belgium and Italy have imposed quotas of 33%, while other countries have set voluntary gender targets," he said. This includes Britain, where FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies are aiming for females to make up at least a third of boards by 2020.

But while Ireland is behind the curve in terms of gender, it is performing well in terms of international representation at board level. "I think that's a reflection on a number of things in the economy - but also from, a board governance perspective, boards have been very aware of diversity as a whole." 

Boards have also been aware of the need to shrink their boards to more manageable levels compared to where they were in 2007. Back then company board had an average of 9.5 members - now that number averages 7.5 members. This is not just about rationalisation following the economic crash, but is also something that the likes of Korn Ferry recommends from a governance point of view. "Smaller boards lead to a lower propensity towards group think," Mr Harty said. "In larger boards there's a greater likelihood of sub-groups forming within the board," he added.

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