Women in Charge

Women are leading just ten percent of TOP 1000 companies, according to this year’s survey.

Yahoo's Marissa Mayer; Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi; IBM's Ginny Rometty; General Motors’ Mary Barra. Or closer to home, how about Apple's Cathy Kearney or Microsoft's Cathriona Hallahan or Glanbia’s Siobhan Talbot? Sometimes, the outliers can lead us to believe that we're progressing rapidly towards eradicating inequality. But it's important to remember that that is what they are – outliers.

The norm for a chief executive to be male remains. Indeed of the 920 companies published in the main list in this year’s magazine, a staggering 820 are men, leaving women to hold down the top job in just about ten per cent of the companies. And most worryingly perhaps, the trend is not going in the direction one might expect; it's actually falling. The last time we conducted this survey in 2014, women held the top job in eleven per cent of TOP 1000 companies.

Yes, men continue to far outnumber women at the top of Irish organisations – and in particular sectors they vastly out-number women.

Consider the rapidly rebounding construction sector. This year's survey fi nds that there is only one female at the helm of an Irish-based construction company, Sarah Kent of Kentech. Women tend to fare better in sectors like technology, retail and pharma, and the multinational sector in general.

So how do we compare internationally? Well perhaps surprisingly, not so badly.

As of January 2017, for example, women held just 29, or 5.8 per cent, of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies; of the Fortune 500, 27 women hold the top jobs – and this is a new record! – while on the FTSE 100, just seven per cent of the top jobs are held by women.

Of the Top 10 largest fi nancial institutions in the country, just one – Depfa Bank – is led by a woman, Fiona Flannery. And perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if women featured strongly on the rest of the list, but this is not yet the case.

Of the 75 institutions on this year's top fi nancial services companies, only six have a woman at the helm, with Barclays’ Sasha Wiggins, FBD’s Fiona Muldoon, JP Morgan’s Carin Bryans and Liberty Insurance's Sharon O’Brien, just a few of the women leading such a company in Ireland.

It means that Francesca McDonagh’s appointment as group chief executive of Bank of Ireland, while not quite levelling the playing fi eld, will go at least some of the way towards addressing the imbalance.

Indeed Ms McDonagh has previously hit out at the lack of women in top jobs in the fi nancial services world, telling a UK newspaper in 2016 that it can be “quite isolating” to be the only woman in the room.

If current trends continue, it looks likely that Ms McDonagh will continue to fi nd it isolating, unless more women can be encouraged, and facilitated, to aim for the top.