Former President of Ireland, Prof Mary McAleese, and Dr Martin McAleese have been announced as the new patrons of the 30% Club.

The 30% Club is a worldwide association of CEOs and Chairs of medium to large organisations who are committed to achieving better gender diversity at the senior levels in their organisations. 

The club started in the UK in 2010, and came to Ireland in later 2014. The 30% Club Ireland is holding its fifth annual conference in Dublin today, where 228 large organisations will be represented by their most senior leaders.

Formerly, the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at AIB, Gillian Harford is now Country Executive with the 30% Club.

"We really want to raise awareness of the topic, and what makes us a little bit different is we do it through Chairs and CEOs. It's not a HR function, it's really about business looking at better business," she said.

Ms Harford said as individuals the McAleeses are fantastic role models but as a partnership, they are a really good example of men and women working together for change. "We really believe that change can happen with the partnership of both genders."

The patronage of the McAleeses will help raise awareness of the work of the 30% Club. 

"We already have the support of the largest organisations in Ireland, but this shows the national commitment that Ireland Inc is making in terms of gender investment and gender talent," Ms Harford said.

At a Women in Leadership event at UCD yesterday, Derville Rowland, Director General of Financial Conduct at The Central Bank, said the regulator considers a lack of diversity at senior management and board level to be a leading indicator of heightened behaviour and culture risks in financial institutions.

Ms Harford has a different take. "What we are seeing is undoubted evidence that organisations that have better gender diversity have better business results. They have better shareholder results. It leads to better talent acquisition, and it leads to much better behaviours in terms of risk, in terms of governance and culture."

"What is great for us is it's not just business looking at this topic, we're now seeing investors, we're seeing regulators getting involved, and in Ireland, what we hope will be the biggest step change is now the national focus through The Better Balance for Better Business initiative, which we really hope will lead to better change for Irish business."