The importance of gender diversity among decision makers in delivering on Ireland's sustainability goals is being discussed at the 30% Club's annual Chair and CEO conference in Dublin today.

The 30% Club was established in 2015 with the aim of supporting the achievement of a minimum of 30% Gender Balance at all senior decision-making tables across Ireland.

The proportion of women on the boards of ISEQ 20 firms has since risen from 12.5% to 36%.

Gillian Harford, Country Executive of the 30% Club Ireland, said there is clear evidence around the value that gender balance brings at board level in terms of better governance, improved risk, and more long term decisions.

"They are all the elements that underpin what good sustainability looks like," she said. "There is a bit of a misconception that sustainability is just about climate but sustainability is about survivability and longevity, and evidence shows a more balanced board drives those kind of actions."

Ms Harford said state boards cover so much of Irish life, "and we really welcome the state board directive that is driving progress that we see in Ireland at a government level that we don't see in other countries".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and former UK Prime Minister Theresa May are speaking at today's event.

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The Taoiseach told the audience that sustainable finance is very much a consideration for most investors and funds now, and that the state itself is a proponent of this through the Irish Strategic Investment Fund.

"Ireland is an attractive country for investment, and many funds and companies thinking of investing here want to see progressive and balanced leadership teams, who are taking their responsibilities seriously in terms of protecting the planet too," he said.

"Last year, Gender Pay Gap reporting became obligatory for companies in Ireland for the first time. This was an important step in both highlighting and working towards ending the gender pay gap, and I know many companies are focused on improving this in their own organisations," he stated.

"It makes sense to ensure that boards and senior leadership teams of companies in Ireland are diverse. Not just because it is the right thing to do as women make up half the population and represent half the skills and talent, but also because it makes economic and business sense," he added.

The Taoiseach said, "We have a long way to go to achieve gender equality and we are an unfinished republic until we do."

The former UK primer minister spoke about the critical role that diversity can play in delivering for the environment and also in "encouraging the next generation of female decision makers."

She called on "every single male CEO who looks around his boardroom table and sees nine out of ten male faces staring back at him to ask themselves what they are doing to make their business one in which their daughter or grand-daughter can progress".

An Garda Síochána recently became the official 300th member of the 30% Club's Irish chapter. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the organisation has improved gender diversity, there is a recognition that there is "more to do".

"An Garda Síochána’s two Deputy Commissioners are female and 50% of our senior leadership team are now women. We have women heading up many of our operational and administrative functions, and we have one of the highest percentages of female police officers in Europe," he said.

"However, women should be better represented at inspector and superintendent level, and to that end in 2019 we set up a women’s network. It supports and encourages female gardaí to advance their careers and also helps to identify any organizational barriers to women progressing, that need redressing and resolution. It has proven very beneficial since its introduction."

The 30% Club today also announced plans to launch a new Investor Group within the Irish Chapter.

Investor groups operate in a number of 30% Club Chapters across the world and bring together asset management and investment intermediaries.

These commit to using their ownership and voting rights - as influence to drive positive change - with regard to gender balance, as part of creating sustainable businesses. Investor groups are reflective of their local marketplace and the 30% Club Irish chapter announced a new steering group that will comprise three leading organisations.

The initiative has proven very successful in the sister chapter in the UK, and is active for over a decade. It has brought together more than 40 investors with £11 trillion Assets Under Management to drive change, in collaboration with companies, on inclusion and diversity.