44% of board appointments in 2020 were overseas directors, according to the first Ireland Spencer Stuart Board Index.

The index by MERC Partners | Spencer Stuart has revealed that foreign directors now make up 30% of the membership of Irish boards.

The report analyses board governance practices in the ISEQ 20 index, which comprises the 20 largest companies trading on the Euronext Dublin exchange by trading volume and market capitalisation.

The study reveals that all but three of the ISEQ 20 companies had foreign non-executive directors, while 10% of board chairs were foreign nationals.

According to the report, the appointment of new foreign directors reflects an overall effort by ISEQ 20 companies to refresh their boards, with 45% appointing a new director in 2020 and first-time directors accounting for 20% of the new intake.

Ruth Curran, Managing Partner, MERC Partners | Spencer Stuart, said the index reveals increasing diversity on Irish boards.

"At MERC Partners | Spencer Stuart, we are increasingly seeing Irish companies looking for candidates from further afield as their business strategies and ambitions evolve.

"This is something that works both ways: being part of a global leadership advisory firm, we are experiencing a rising demand for Irish candidates on boards internationally.

"The performance of Irish businesses on the world stage has not gone unrecognised and there is a real demand for the expertise of Irish executives on global boards," she said.

According to the index, Flutter Entertainment plc appointed two foreign directors in 2020, while AIB Group plc, Aryzta AG, Bank of Ireland plc, Kingspan Group plc and Irish Residential Properties plc each appointed one.

The report states that the trend towards board diversity is also evident when looking at gender representation, with 25% of boards now having at least 30% female membership.

Women accounted for 48% of the new intake of all directors, according to the index.

While gender diversity has improved in recent years, the report states that there is still significant progress to be made; with just 26% of board members being women.

This falls some way behind the FTSE 150, where women account for 34% of all directors - and 71% of boards have at least 30% female membership.