Leadership and Closing the Gender Gap #50 #cong21


The future of leadership is gender equality. When women are at the decision making table better, more holistic, risk averse decisions are made that are good for everyone.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. We need gender quota legalisation not voluntary targets.
  2. We must to close the gender pay gap.
  3. More Flexible and Remote work grows gender equality.
  4. Women’s Sport is driving a change in societal norms.

About Barry Mac Devitt

Barry has spent most of his career in marketing working for a number of multinationals across the food and telco sectors. He has also worked on the agency side too, so he knows the other side of the fence as well.

More recently though he was CEO of DesignTwentyFirst Century a not-for-profit that was one Ireland’s pioneers in promoting design thinking as an approach to advancing solutions, engendering change and unlocking new ways of learning in people. Some of this work was featured by Jeanne Liedtka, one of the worlds leading authorities on design thinking, in her bestselling book ‘Solving Problems with Design Thinking’.

He is now an independent consultant who wants a more gender balanced future for his three daughters.

Contacting Barry Mac Devitt

You can connect with Barry on LinkedIn.

By Barry Mac Devitt

Men and women have long had unequal access to leadership and positions of authority in Irish society and in the workplace. Despite significant gains over the past 40 years, this inequality still persists today.

Women are still significantly under-represented in senior decision-making positions in Ireland’s public and private sectors, in politics and on state and non-state boards. Women comprised just 22% in 2020 of Irish listed corporate boards, while incredibly 19% of listed companies had no female directors at all. The situation is somewhat better on state boards which now comprise 41.5% female directors but its taken over 25 years to get to this.

The latest CSO also continues to highlight the gender pay gap, which stands at 14.4% which means that across the workforce, women earn – on average – 14.4% less than men for every hour they work.

This still exists despite the vast majority of people in Ireland, over 75% according to latest research by WorkEqual, believing that this needs to change urgently and be driven by government.

The wider benefit that gender equality brings not just in business but in society as a whole I hope should be undisputed at this stage. Research consistently shows that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams and that having women at C-suite level doesn’t just make businesses more profitable but its better for employee welfare, work life balance and the organisations wider impact in society.

In the current pandemic you just have to look at the countries where women are heads of state to see shining examples of effective leadership. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Germany and Slovakia have been internationally recognised for the effectiveness of their response. These women leaders were proactive in managing the virus, implementing social distancing restrictions early, seeking expert advice to inform health strategies and unifying the country around a comprehensive response with transparent and compassionate communication.

Put simply when women are at the decision making table better, more holistic, risk averse decision are made that are good for everyone. Had we had more women on the boards of the banks leading up to the 2008 financial crash one wonders if it ever would have happened.

So I think the future of good leadership starts with speeding up gender equality.

I don’t claim to have all the solutions here and there certainly isn’t one silver bullet but here are five things to speed up the change:

1) Bring in gender quota legalisation to force private companies to have at least 40% gender balance on their boards. Positive laws imposing gender quotas, rather than voluntary targets, generate the most significant improvements in gender balance in the workforce. This has been demonstrated in the countries where legalisation has recently come into force – France, Holland, Italy, Greece, Belgium and Germany. This was also a key recommendation by our Citizen Assembly on Gender Equality. When women are in leadership positions that shape business policy there is a trickle down effect that benefits not just other women but everyone.

2) Close the Gender Pay Gap. Legislation compelling employers in Ireland to disclose their gender pay gaps was enacted in 2021. This legislation needs to be enforced over the coming months and years not just in compliance but also by incentivising employers to make meaningful progress in tackling the issue i.e. by being required to submit an action plan to close their gender pay gaps at the same time as making their disclosure.

3) More flexible and remote working. If there has been any silver lining as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic its been in that we can have more flexible work options including remote working and still be productive. More employers now have realised the benefits of these work options for both women and men.

4) Leadership Team balance – ladders to the board. Quotas don’t apply to leadership teams but this where future female talent has to be nurtured otherwise backsliding occurs. Support, training and mentorship are all required to constantly grow this pipeline.

5) Changing societal norms. As a father of three girls I’m super conscious of the gender stereotyping thats exists all around us and from an incredibly early age. But I’m encouraged when I see the groundswell of change happening particularly in things like sport. Women’s participation and success in sports like soccer, GAA, hockey, golf, sailing, boxing and recent media campaigns like 20×20 ‘if she cant see it, she can’t be it’ are all really encouraging signs of a positive shift that is happening.

The future of good leadership is gender equality, let’s make it happen.

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