The inclusion of women on boards has acted as a smokescreen for deeper diversity problems in businesses and organisations and those in power need to be more direct in how they’re addressing this issue according to Ann Prendergast, Senior Managing Director & Head of State Street Global Advisors Ireland.
Commenting ahead of her keynote speech at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountant’s (ACCA) International Women’s Day Event on March 8th in Dublin, Ann spoke of the importance of real action from those who are in positions of power in business and the experience of helping accelerate the change that is needed. “As shareholders of significant publicly–listed businesses, we play a significant role in appointments to senior board positions. Since 2017, we have identified almost 1,400 companies with no women on their boards and informed them that we will vote against them if they didn’t address board diversity. Since then, more than 570 of those companies have added a female director or committed to doing so. We are pleased with our progress thus far but appreciate there is much more to do.”
Though board representation is an important breakthrough in business, the increased representation on boards has meant that focus on holistic progression in the workplace has been eroded with Ireland still lagging at 17th of the 27 EU member states according to the ‘Better Balance for Better Business’ working group. As of
2019, women make up 20% of boards in Ireland and Ann fears there is an assumption this improves at lower and middle management. However because it is often the only level that is monitored, many companies prioritise representation on boards, neglecting the rest of the company. This reality is borne out in the official statistics which show women fill only 8.5%
in Executive Director and 29% in non–Executive Director roles.
Commenting Ann said,
“For years we have sought equal representation for women who are capable and skilled in the areas they work. In recent times, however, this has meant that companies have used representation at board level as a smokescreen for holistic and thorough change meaning a significant gap has remained between lower and middle management and board level. This is something we’re dedicated to changing.”
Caitriona Allis, Head of ACCA Ireland commented, “It’s every organisation’s responsibility to support diversity and review the opportunities for women – and indeed all other under–represented groups. Marking International Women’s Day every year gives an opportunity to take stock and make sure we’re addressing obstacles to diversity. At ACCA, our membership base is 63% female worldwide and we recognise the positive impact in having a strong gender balance in the workplace, with life experiences, job skills and perspectives that are unique and different and we actively ensure these voices are represented throughout our structure.”