Launch of Better Balance for Better Business


Speech by Minister of State David Stanton T.D


Monday, 30th July, 2018


Taoiseach, Ladies and Gentlemen,


We are setting a challenge for you today.  We are asking you to work with the Better Balance for Better Business group to get more women onto your boards and into senior management in your companies.  We know that this will be challenging but it can be done.  Look at what has been achieved in relation to State boards.  The 40% target has now been reached.  As Minister Flanagan indicated yesterday, the percentage of women on State boards now stands at 40.6%.  Achieving that target has not happened by accident.  The Government has taken concerted action to improve the gender balance on State boards.  That has yielded good results.  44% of those appointed or reappointed to State boards over the past six months have been women.  Our focus now is on working to maintain that percentage and to build on it. 


We need your cooperation, however, to achieve similar results on gender balance in the corporate sector.  You are the ones who have the power to achieve change in terms of corporate leadership.  You can take action to bring more women into your boardrooms and to foster more women leaders within your companies. 


Opening up opportunities for women in senior business leadership will involve a change of mind-set for business leaders.   The culture of the boardroom will change if a critical mass of women become directors.  I have seen at first-hand within Leinster House the benefits of greater gender balance.  The increase in the number of women TDs and senators at the last election has transformed the culture in Leinster House.  We do our business differently now.  It is much more common for mixed groups of female and male politicians to sit down together to discuss issues and to work collaboratively to devise solutions.  Our priorities have changed too to accommodate the interests of women as well as men.  Having more women as politicians is enabling the democratic process to become more truly representative of Irish society.  I believe that achieving better gender balance in Irish business will yield similar benefits.  The culture of the companies may change to become more representative of Irish society.  That is crucial if companies are to understand their customers who, after all, will generally include women. 


I know that many businesses will say that they cannot find suitable women to join their boards.  They will fear that sufficiently experienced women may not be available or may not be interested in becoming board members.  To an extent, there may indeed be a pipeline issue.  That is why Better Balance for Better Business is rightly looking at the issue of women in senior management in Irish companies.  It is by focusing on the pipeline that we can achieve sustainable gender balance in business leadership. 


However, I would also urge business leaders not to have too fixed a notion of who their ideal board members should be.  I would ask them to be open to potential candidates with atypical experience.  There are many senior women serving on State boards for instance who can bring relevant experience of strategic decision-making in a public sector context.  It is also important that we would not end up with one or two leading businesswomen serving on multiple boards.  That would represent such a wasted opportunity to diversify talent and to broaden decision-making perspectives. 


I am endlessly reminded of the dangers of stereotyping.  We are the product of our environment and of the assumptions and norms which shape us.  From our earliest days, we make assumptions about our own potential and that of those around us.  I don’t know if you have seen the BBC video which asks young children to draw pictures of firemen, doctors and astronauts.  It is fascinating to see how the children assume that the fireman, doctor and astronaut will automatically be male and then are stunned to see women carrying out this role. 


We have to acknowledge that we are all wearing blinkers, our vision limited by assumptions and stereotypes.  That is why I am asking business leaders today to take off the blinkers, to test their own assumptions and to look again at the range of potential candidates for leadership roles in their companies.  I am confident that they will find that there are many women available who can make strategic contributions that will help these businesses to grow and to adapt for the future.  The Government will play its part by organising networking opportunities for business leaders to meet women interested in becoming senior business decision-makers. 


Better Balance for Better Business offers us a dynamic model in which business will talk to business about cultural change.  The Government will be on hand to provide support for this initiative.   I would like to thank the Taoiseach for his ongoing commitment and support which has underlined the priority which the Government attaches to promoting greater opportunities for women in business.  He has been a champion of this initiative from the beginning. 


I would like to thank you all for coming here today to the launch of Better Balance for Better Business.  I would like to thank Gary Kennedy and Brid Horan very especially for agreeing to co-chair the group.  They have many competing demands on their time.  That they have agreed to take on this task, notwithstanding their very busy schedules, is a tribute to their commitment to this issue.  Their leadership experience and knowledge of the business world will be crucial in developing a programme of work that enjoys credibility with business.  I would also like to thank the other group members, Aongus Hegarty, Mark Fitzgerald, Carol Andrews, Julie Sinnamon, Martin Shanahan, Fiona Tierney, Danny McCoy and Orlaigh Quinn for agreeing to sit on the review group.  We are very pleased that we can draw on the skills of leaders of indigenous and multi-national companies and of heads of public sector organisations working with business and appointments processes.  I am delighted that Frances Fitzgerald is here today at the launch of an initiative that she sponsored.  Her vision that business should speak to business on gender equality is today becoming a reality. 


Our message today is that greater gender balance will be of benefit not just to women leaders but also to business itself.   I am asking those attending today’s launch to be ambassadors of change, to persuade your peers to take the first steps and to remind them of the potential benefits of opening their decision-making structures to new talent.  I wish the Better Balance for Better Business group every success in their work.  I look forward to supporting them in this important task of making Ireland a market leader on gender balance in business decision-making. 


Thank you very much.