Ruth Curran Of MERC Partners Talks Gender Balance In Irish Boardrooms

Time to talk about MARZIPAN and GLASS CHAIRS?

Global Chair for 11C Partners. Pic: Angela Halpin
Angela Halpin

Talent and hard work will out. That’s the meritocratic belief that motivates most of us in our careers. There is, fortunately, good reason to believe it. In just a generation Irish women have rolled back the frontiers and risen to the highest positions in male-dominated worlds. It is no longer exceptional to see a successful woman in any walk of life, and why should it be? That is, of course, until we look at gender balance in Irish boardrooms.

Almost ten years ago, I wrote an article that pondered why many talented female executives found their careers stalled two tiers below board level (the “marzipan” level) or what is globally recognised as C suite-1. I questioned why talented and successful women were not being invited to bring their knowledge and leadership to the boardroom table? Shattering the glass ceiling entirely might take time, but for the glass chairs to sit empty simply made no sense.

In the decade that followed, we went through and have just about recovered from, a global and national economic calamity. Groupthink at the very highest level was a key culprit. The solution, welcomed at the highest levels, was diversity of thought, experience and gender. Boardrooms would never again be strongholds of constricted, hegemonic thinking. So why does it still feel as though we haven’t moved on at all? When a recent survey from international research think-tank Catalyst finds that just ten per cent of ISEQ board directors are women, isn’t this an indication that we are still only playing lip service to diversity? I know from working with high-profile Irish and international clients that businesses work really hard to embrace the concept of diversity. They do so out of enlightened self-interest: there is overwhelming evidence of the value it brings to any organisation. So perhaps it is just a case of waiting a little longer? As the talent pool grows, won’t the percentage of female board members grow with it?

Personally, I don’t subscribe to this view. Companies need to be corporate champions. This means looking beyond the obvious and into areas where women are making vital contributions – academia, creative industries, healthcare, tech, consumer, law, NGO and community sectors – and, yes, disciplines such as law and finance too.

Let’s hope that, in ten years time, if I am writing about marzipan and glass chairs, the article will appear in the baking or interior decorating section or, even better, I may have added the role of globetrotting food critic to my CV.

Ruth Curran is Managing Partner of MERC Partners, Global Chair of IIC Partners and on the Diversity Committee of AESC.

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our next issue out Thursday April 6.

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