Women in Decision-Making

The advancement of women into decision making roles has been a key objective of European and multi-lateral social policy for many years.  The Council of Europe recommends that the membership of national parliaments include representation of at least 40 per cent of persons of each sex.  Similar targets have been set by the European Union.

A research report commissioned under the Swedish Presidency of the European Union (EU) in 2009 estimated that if true gender equality were achieved in the European Union, then EU Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has the potential to grow by 27 per cent. The Swedish study estimated that the impact in Ireland could be an increase of 35 per cent in GDP. 

International studies show that organisations with a good gender-balance in senior leadership positions and on Boards tend to perform better than those who do not (e.g. McKinsey, Catalyst, Credit Suisse, etc). This research, along with others, which has been highlighted by international actors such as the OECD and by the European institutions shows that there are tangible and measurable benefits to better gender-balance including: increased labour productivity; enhanced governance and performance; improved corporate image, both for internal and external customers; higher return on investment; greater ability to attract and retain the best talent; increased workplace innovation; and a reduction in employee turnover.

Additionally, women also account for an important part of the global consumer market, and it is estimated that women make 70 per cent of the household purchasing decisions in the EU. Therefore, it is important that senior management in companies adequately reflect their consumer base.

In order to grow the economy and sustain business investment, Ireland needs a diverse and highly skilled workforce. Statistics show that women in Ireland and across the EU are more highly educated that their male counterparts. As it stands, the low numbers of women in senior decision-making positions in Ireland represent a vast pool of untapped potential and under-utilisation of talent.

Gender gaps and inequalities are related to a mixture of economic and socio-cultural factors. Persisting gender stereotypes and perceptions continue to hinder women’s efforts to reach the highest decision-making roles, while beliefs surrounding the cultural roles traditionally held by women and men, particularly in relation to childcare and care of other dependents, as well as limited access to affordable childcare of good quality, and short and/or irregular school hours, have a detrimental effect on women’s advancement in the workforce. This has created a situation whereby women are not reaching their full potential in the labour market, which affects the performance of the economy as a whole.

A number of European countries now have significant female representation in national politics and at Ministerial level.

A number of steps have been taken to address women’s under-representation in Decision-making in Ireland.

The Programme for Government 2011- 2016 includes a commitment “to ensure that the rights of women and men to equality of treatment and to participate fully in society are upheld” while also seeking to increase women’s participation in political and public life.

The National Women’s Strategy 2007 – 2016 (NWS) is the Government’s statement of priorities in relation to the advancement of women in all areas of Irish society. It actively promotes the advancement of women into leadership roles. A report prepared by a Sub-Committee of the NWS Monitoring Committee, chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for Equality, entitled “Towards Gender parity in Decision-making in Ireland”, was adopted by Government in March 2014. The report makes a number of recommendations for advancing women in decision-making roles across a number of sectors, including in both the public and the private sectors.

Funding from the European Commission under the European PROGRESS Programme 2007 - 2013 is facilitating the implementation of a number of the key recommendations of the report with a specific focus on increasing the number of women in decision-making roles in both the public and private sectors and on boards. For more information, please see EU PROGRESS Programme “Initiatives to support the achievement of gender balance in decision-making roles in Ireland’

In July 2014, the Government announced its approval of new measures to promote gender balance on State Boards, reaffirming its commitment to achieve a target of 40 per cent representation of each gender on all State Boards within the life time of the current Programme for Government. Additionally, in the case of Boards which have already achieved the 40 per cent target, Departments should seek to move towards 45 per cent of each gender as a new target for gender equality.