Check against delivery 

 

Opening address by the Minister of State with special responsibility 

for Equality, Immigration, and Integration 

David Stanton, TD 

 

at the 

30% Club Ireland CEO and Chairs 3rd Annual Conference: “Creating impact – Achieving Results” 

 

at the National Gallery of Ireland, Clare Street, Dublin 2 

 

Wednesday 25 January 2017 

 

 

Thank you for your very kind introduction. 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished colleagues and friends, 

 

On behalf of the Tánaiste who, unfortunately, cannot be here today, I want to thank the 30% Club for the invitation to address you today, at the opening of 30% Club Ireland’s third annual conference for Chairs and Chief Executive Officers. 

 

For many women, achieving economic independence is a door to options and opportunities, and a path to empowerment and self-fulfilment. Where there is inequality between women and men in access to work and in their progression to senior roles, it has a significant cost, both to the women affected and to society. 

 

At the outset, I would therefore like to highlight that the Government sees the renewal of the National Women’s Strategy for the period from 2017 to 2020 as one of the key justice and equality initiatives in our Programme for Government. Our ambition for the new Strategy is that it should speak to the society of today and target the barriers to women's achievement of their full potential and their enjoyment of equality with men. 

 

I can tell you that the Tánaiste and I are actively looking at the issue of women’s empowerment in decision-making in all spheres in the context of the new Strategy. As a starting point, the Strategy will incorporate a range of measures contained in the 2016 Programme for a Partnership Government that are intended to benefit women directly or indirectly, including commitments to improve the availability of quality and affordable childcare and a proposal to promote wage transparency by requiring companies to complete a wage survey. We are also looking at the recommendations of the Monitoring Committee under the previous National Women's Strategy, in its 2013 report "Towards Gender Parity in Decision-making in Ireland", including a proposal that major companies be encouraged to develop a Corporate Governance Code to include commitments on the percentage of women and men members at board level and recommendations on gender diversity at organisational level particularly in the senior decision-making echelon. 

 

To inform the preparation of the new Strategy, the Department of Justice and Equality is currently undertaking a public consultation which remains open for submissions until next Tuesday, the 31st of January. We would like to hear from you about what you think are the most important issues for women and girls in Ireland to be addressed over the next four years, the key obstacles to be overcome and what we need to do to achieve this. 

 

I welcome the 30% Club’s intention to contribute a submission. I also encourage you, as individuals, to let us know what are your own priorities for the advancement of women and girls in Ireland to 2020. For guidance on how to make a submission, I refer you to the information published on the Department of Justice and Equality website and on www.genderequality.ie. 

 

As a small open economy, we should not underestimate what we are in a position to learn, to the benefit of Irish society as a whole, from engagement with the wider world in building new business relationships, and acquiring new knowledge and perspectives. The Irish chapter of the 30% Club, which from its roots in the UK now extends to ten territories around the world, is one such example and a valuable addition to the Irish business scene. Since its formal establishment in Ireland in 2015, the forum has evolved to become one of the most influential business-led initiatives promoting gender balance at all levels in Irish companies, with a particular emphasis on encouraging collaborative voluntary action by companies. Its supporters have expanded to include key players in the private sector, the semi-state sector, and the public sector, including Noel Waters, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. 

 

The theme of this year’s Chairs and CEOs conference, "creating impact - achieving results", very succinctly focuses attention on the most important point – that the outcome of your work would be measured against the challenging goal of having women in 30% of board positions and 30% of executive management positions by 2020. 

 

Why is this important? 

 

Quite apart from the compelling equality argument for more equal participation of women and men in decision-making at all levels of society, a growing body of research associates greater gender diversity at board and management level with improved company performance and higher financial returns. Companies with female board representation have been found to outperform those with no women on their boards. These are findings which are increasingly viewed with interest by investors. 

 

I would urge Irish companies, and listed companies in particular, to take note of the strong business case for improving the gender balance in their corporate leadership and take action accordingly to improve their record in appointments to Boards and at executive level. 

 

As many executives may not yet know about this research, I feel that it is important at every opportunity for us to restate the business case for gender equality, and to add to it as the evidence base expands. Indeed, the 30% Club in Ireland is to be commended for playing an important role in contributing to research in the Irish context, and raising awareness of its findings among its membership and at executive level generally. I look forward to the presentation of the research update later today. 

 

So, as regards the level of female participation in senior decision-making in business, where do we currently stand? 

 

The most recent statistics published by the EU Commission on the gender balance on the boards of the largest listed companies refer to April 2016. These show that the average female representation on ISEQ20 companies was 16%. This is a significant advance on 9%, which was the level of female representation in 2012, but it must be compared to the EU average of 23% for equivalent companies. The concern to increase the participation of women in business leadership is an objective we share with all other Member States of the EU. 

 

Irish companies, however, lag significantly behind equivalent blue-chip companies in the UK, where average female representation on boards has risen to 27%. In Finland, Italy, Sweden, France, Norway and Iceland, female representation on equivalent boards ranges from 30% to 44%. 

 

The Government welcomes the intention of the Maltese Presidency to resume of the Proposal for a Directive on improving gender balance among directors of companies listed on stock exchanges. This proposal, you will recall, was first announced by the European Commission in late 2012. The draft Directive does not set quotas for board membership but merely procedures to be followed if a board fails to meet targets for the representation of women and men on boards in non-executive and executive functions. The requirement to have selection procedures that are fair, neutral and unambiguous is in line with best practice for recruitment generally. We believe that the revised draft developed during the Luxembourg Presidency forms a good basis to take the discussion forward. 

 

Turning to the State sector, a survey of State Boards conducted by my Department last August showed that 43% of such boards had achieved at least 40% of each gender among their membership. Between January 2011 and August 2016, more than four thousand appointments were made to the boards of State bodies, with women appointed to 39% of these positions. The Government remains committed to increasing female representation on State Boards to 40%. In the Programme for Government, we have undertaken to strengthen the centralised application and short-listing process run by the Public Appointments Service by putting it on a statutory footing, and taking account of diversity and balance, including gender. 

 

I freely acknowledge that we still have a serious gender imbalance among the highest ranks of the Civil Service. 60% of staff, but only 33% of senior managers in the Civil Service are women. Currently 30% of Assistant Secretaries, approximately 37% of Principal Officers and 46% of Assistant Principals are women. This is an imbalance the Government is determined to address. Earlier this month, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, announced a range of initiatives under the Civil Service Renewal agenda to ensure the Civil Service would reflect a better gender balance in the future. Leadership development programmes and gender parity targets for appointments at senior levels, feature strongly in this programme, as do the continued development of human resources policies that contribute to a gender balanced workforce. 

 

Before I conclude, I’d like to return to the theme for today’s conference and reflect on how we can, as individuals, create impact and achieve results. 

 

The Harvard Business Review recently reported on a study carried out in Fortune 500 companies in the US. It found that leaders who were known in their organisations as informal champions of women had certain behaviours in common: 

· they saw gender inclusiveness as a good strategy for the organisation and used their authority to change workplace culture; 

· in recruitment, early identification of talent and succession planning, they used best-practice and gender inclusive strategies as a means of effective talent management; 

· they provided gender-aware mentoring and coaching; and 

· their leadership was focused on the greater good of the organisation. 

 

Creating an environment in which women and men equally can flourish and progress to leadership at the highest levels requires a fundamental change of culture in most organisations. To do this, individual leadership and personal influence really matters. 

 

Your attendance here today suggests that this is a challenge that you have already accepted and that you have already begun to champion gender equality within your own organisation. As Chairs and Chief Executive Officers, I would encourage you to take this leadership a step further and reach out to influence your peers. 

 

As the anthropologist Margaret Mead has said, "never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed nothing else ever has." 

 

I will conclude by wishing you all success in your deliberations this afternoon. 

 

Thank you for your attention. 

ENDS