Tuesday 12 December 2017

'Fears of quotas' will get more women on boards

Sandra Norris
Sandra Norris

Paul O'Donoghue

The Irish director of global non-profit equality organisation Catalyst has said that the threat of Ireland introducing gender quotas on business boards could help prompt more companies to diversify.

Sandra Ondraschek Norris, who is the director of Catalyst Europe, said that is a strong Irish culture where "women are seen as carers".

Ms Norris believes it will take "three generations" before there is gender parity in the boardroom.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, the Donegal native said that in several countries the threat of some form of legislation "is forcing people to act" and increase gender diversity in the board room voluntarily.

Ireland recently ranked second lowest in Europe for gender diversity on boards, with a survey finding that just over 10pc of Iseq board directors are women.

This compared to 23pc in the UK and over 35pc in Norway.

Norway was the first country in the world to introduce gender quotas on company boards.

Since then it has been followed by several other countries in Europe such as Belgium and Spain.

The European Parliament has passed a resolution calling for EU-wide legislation stipulating that at least 40pc of seats on listed companies' supervisory boards will be reserved for women by 2020.

When asked whether she thought that Ireland should consider introducing quotas, she said: "Yes. In those countries where they have brought in quotas, or where they are talking about bringing in quotas, you can see that things are happening.

"It's one way of pushing the change through."

She added: "We work with a lot of big companies and those companies know that quotas are coming and they know that they can't go from zero to 60 and they are looking for creative ways of approaching this that is beyond just box-ticking."

She also said that if Ireland continues at its current rate it could take decades before reaching a similar gender balance as that achieved in Norway.

"I think unless we push for a bolder change it's going to take at least three or four generations," she said.

Gender quotas have long been a controversial issue.

While proponents argue that they are an effective method of ensuring a more representative boardroom, those against the measure argue that quotas can force bosses to hire less-qualified candidates in a rush to tick boxes.

A report last week from the Institute of Directors also found that the appetite for quotas has decreased among Irish female executives. Of those polled, 23pc said that quotas were the most effective means of increasing the number of women on boards.

That's, a decrease of 6pc on the previous year.

Meanwhile, more than a quarter (28pc) said that quotas are the wrong approach entirely.

However, the same survey also found that almost one in three women surveyed believe the so-called glass ceiling still exists in Ireland.

And just over three-quarters of the women surveyed said that it is more difficult for women to become non-executive directors in Ireland than men.

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