A new report shows the percentage of women on the boards of ISEQ 20 companies this year rose to 31% from 18%.
This means that the top publicly listed companies in Ireland are well on track to achieve the 33% goal by the end of 2023.
The fourth report of the Balance for Better Business Review Group shows that Irish businesses have made important progress in achieving gender balance at Board level within the past year in Ireland.
The report was launched today by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD and the Balance for Better Business co-chairs Julie Sinnamon and Aongus Hegarty.
As of November this year, Ireland had moved up to 12th position from 17th on the list of women on company boards for the largest companies in the EU27.
But while the Better Business Review report shows that the overall trends at board level are positive, concern remains around progress at senior leadership level.
Today's report shows that for other listed companies, the percentage of women on boards is now at 20%, hitting the target set for the end of 2021 and up from 9.6% in early 2018.
For large Irish companies, the percentage of women on boards is 22%, only narrowly missing the 23% target set for the end of 2021.
While the ISEQ20 companies have exceeded their 2021 target for female representation at senior leadership level, other listed firms and large Irish owned private companies have both missed their targets for 2021.
Although it has been a stated target of Balance for Better Business that no listed companies should have an all-male board, there are still five (13%) listed companies with all-male boards.
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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it was encouraging to see further progress has been made this year.
"I'm especially pleased that we have reached the interim target of having 30% female representation on the boards of the ISEQ20 companies. In 2018, the average was only 18%, so this is significant progress, however it is a far cry from the equal representation we aspire to and clearly more needs to be done," Mr Varadkar said.
"Women are still underrepresented in executive director roles and progress to rectify this issue has been too slow. There are still five listed companies with all-male boards," he noted.
"Change takes time, but the progress made shows what can be achieved when companies focus on making change happen. I hope next year to see greater progress on senior leadership targets," he added.
Julie Sinnamon said the business case for more diverse decision making and leadership is well established.
"Balance for Better Business wants to put gender balance on the agenda of every Irish company and make Ireland a more gender balanced economy. While work remains to be done at the board level, the real challenge is in achieving balance at leadership level in organisations," Ms Sinnamon said.
"We will continue to highlight how proactive talent management and succession planning provide pathways for business to facilitate change in their own organisations. A strong and robust pipeline of future female leaders influences the shape of future leadership teams and boards. This will provide sustainable, long term change, in a way that continuing to place too much emphasis on recruiting women to boards cannot," she added.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, Julie Sinnamon said a few companies - including Vodafone and CPL Resources - have made great strides in improving the numbers of women in senior leadership positions.
Ms Sinnamon said the Balance for Better Business group continues to "focus with them to see this isn't just about being nice to women but about driving business performance".
She said the focus should be on what is possible, adding that she would prefer to persuade companies of the benefit of board room gender balance.
Co-Chair Aongus Hegarty said a cultural change was required which needed active engagement by senior business leaders across Ireland.
"There are still too many companies with all-male boards and leadership teams in Ireland. Achieving gender equality requires honest and rigorous self-assessment, time, and sustained effort and that's why we're calling on companies to do three things," Mr Hegarty said.
"Firstly, set targets and have an action plan, treating gender balance like any other business objective. Secondly, build a gender balanced succession plan at both board and executive leadership team level. Thirdly, report on your progress to achieve transparency and accountability, as this will send a clear message to potential talent, to customers and customers that you understand and the value a more diverse and inclusive workforce," he added.
Gender Pay Gap reporting will be introduced in Ireland next year.
Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth, Roderic O'Gorman said that this mandatory reporting, which will include reporting on the reasons for any pay gap, should encourage Irish businesses to look beneath the figures, to establish the root cause or causes for any pay disparity between men and women and bring about a cultural change where needed.
"It is well established that more diverse boards and leadership teams attract and retain the most talented individuals and yield better results overall. Irish business have an opportunity to lead this change, the ISEQ20 companies on track to meet their 2023 target are evidence of this," the Minister added.
30% a floor and not a ceiling - 30% Club Ireland
The 30% Club Ireland has welcomed today's report, saying that it achieved the goal of 30% as a "floor" in terms of gender balance on boards of major companies.
Rachel Hussey, Chair of the 30% Club, said she regards 30% as the floor and not a ceiling.
"While there is advancement at board level, we need to see improvements in women being appointed to senior management teams, as this is where most practical impact can be affected within a business," Ms Hussey said.
The 30% Club Ireland has announced a new initiative to connect highly qualified women interested in board roles, with those responsible for improving gender balance in board appointments for listed, private and State bodies across Ireland.
Board Connections at the 30% Club is the new home for the model established in 2009 by the Board Diversity Initiative. Its directory comprises the profiles of more than 150 senior women in business across Ireland, who are interested in taking on a board role.
The directory is made available on request to Board Chairs, CEOs and search firms involved in the selection process for board roles.
"Many Irish companies have made significant progress on board gender balance through voluntary actions since we started in 2015, but there is more to be done. It should no longer be acceptable to try to link failure to move the dial to a perceived lack of talent, because we know the talent is there, and through this directory we aim to connect great women with enlightened boards," Rachel Hussey said.