Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consensus (DE&I) 2023: How far have organisations across Ireland come

As Executive Headhunters, Principal Connections partners with many of the most noteworthy organisations across Ireland and the United Kingdom seeking to appoint diverse executive, CEO and board leadership talent.

In our view, DE&I is integral to the success of businesses today. It is well-established that organisations with diverse workforces are more likely to financially outperform their peers and excel in areas ranging from employee retention to innovation. Moreover, leveraging different perspectives contributes to a more complete understanding of opportunities and issues, fostering better decision-making and competitive advantages.

All this being said, what is far less apparent in today’s business environment is how organisational diversity programmes have evolved, and furthermore, what work remains to be done.

A Report by Principal Connections

Principal Connections decided to undertake a research programme in May and June of 2023, to explore just how far along their DE&I journey organisations across Ireland have come. While it is evident from the findings of the report that good progress has been made, it is clear that there remains a long way to go. We hope that this research piece will help organisations to diagnose and benchmark the maturity level of their DE&I programmes, and to identify their strengths and areas for enhancement.

Some of the views from the 100 Diversity Leaders who took part 

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DE&I in Executive Search

Principal Connections - executive search is committed to advancing DE&I in leadership. Actively partnering with our clients to help advance their DE&I objectives, we embrace various methodologies throughout our executive, CEO and board search engagements, with the goal of increasing the representation of historically underrepresented senior leadership.

Principal Connections - executive search is a Founding Signatory of the Executive and Board Resourcing Code of Conduct for search professionals and businesses established by IBEC and the 30% Club. (Jun. 2016, updated Apr. 2019). We are also an advocate for “Balance for Better Business”, the independent business-led Review Group established by the Government to improve gender balance in senior leadership.


The fifth annual report of the Balance for Better Business Review Group, published today (November 21st 2022), reveals that Irish businesses have made significant progress in achieving gender balance at Board level over the past year.

The report was launched by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD and the Balance for Better Business Co-Chairs Julie Sinnamon and Aongus Hegarty.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD said: “As we look back over the past year, it’s encouraging to see the progress that continues to be made on gender balance across the Irish business landscape. I’m especially pleased to see that Ireland has now not only caught up with, but exceeded, the EU average for the representation of women on the largest listed companies’ boards. This marks a significant accomplishment, especially given that this has occurred over a relatively short time period.”


The report by the Government established initiative shows that in 2022, the percentage of women on the Boards of ISEQ20 companies rose to 36%, far exceeding the 30% target set for the end of 2022 as well as the 33% target set for the end of 2023.

For other listed companies, the percentage of women on Boards is now 26%, exceeding the 22% target set for the end of 2022 and up 16 percentage points since 2018.

Encouragingly, ISEQ20 Boards have also continued to move beyond a “one and done” approach to adding women to their Boards, with almost three quarters of ISEQ20 listed companies now having three or more female Board members.

While the other listed cohort has a lower number of Boards with three or more women, at 28%, this represents a significant increase from 10.7% in 2019. In addition, the overall percentage of companies listed on the ISEQ overall, with more than three women on their Board has exceeded 50% for the first time – at 51%.

This progress over the past year is reflected in the fact that, for the first time, Ireland has exceeded the EU27 average for the proportion of women on leading company Boards by 1.6 percentage points. The gap between Ireland and the rest of the EU has narrowed every year since Balance for Better Business was established in 2018.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD added:
“Despite the progress, it’s clear that more work needs to be done. Women are still underrepresented in senior roles both at Board and senior leadership level, with just one female Chair on the ISEQ20 and only a small number of female CEOs on publicly listed companies. By failing to include women in leadership teams, businesses ignore the talent of half the population. While change takes time, it’s crucial that businesses redouble their efforts in 2023 to create more opportunities for women to succeed to the highest levels of Irish business.”


While there have been significant gains over the past year, the report also reveals slower progress in some areas, particularly when it comes to the number of women in senior leadership roles. Although the ISEQ20 companies exceeded their 2022 target for female representation at senior leadership level, reaching 27% against a target of 26%, other listed companies have missed their 22% target for the year. Meanwhile, the report shows that women hold just four out of 36 CEO positions in publicly listed companies.

Although it has been a stated target of Balance for Better Business that no listed companies should have all-male Boards, there are still three listed companies with all-male Boards, albeit down from five all-male Boards in 2021, with just one female Chair represented on the ISEQ20.

Balance for Better Business co-chair Julie Sinnamon said: “Since its launch in 2018, Balance for Better Business has worked not only to promote gender balance at Board and executive leadership levels, but also to share the experience of organisations on the journey towards achieving gender balance. Those efforts to date are
reflected in the progress that has been made across the past year in terms of gender balance at Board level, notwithstanding the fact that work remains to be done to ensure that women are able to progress into the most senior positions on Board and leadership teams.

“At Balance for Better Business, we’ll continue to support businesses as they look to bridge these gaps. By highlighting the ways in which proactive talent management and succession planning provide robust pathway for women to succeed to more senior roles, our aim is to help foster the deeper behavioural and cultural transformation required to drive real change across Irish organisations.”

Balance for Better Business co-chair Aongus Hegarty added: “While the progress made this year among businesses is to be welcomed, there are still too many companies with all male boards and leadership teams in Ireland. This is despite the compelling business case of having an equal number of men and women in senior leadership positions including greater levels of innovation, enhanced financial returns and stronger Environmental, Social and Government (ESG) performance.

“With the aim of inspiring action at senior leadership level, this year’s report highlights three key recommendations for improving gender balance at board and leadership level. These include setting stretch targets and building an action plan to achieve them, fostering a gender balanced succession plan and pipeline of female talent, and mandating gender balanced candidate lists for open roles. Through these specific actions, we want to empower leaders to build a culture that promotes gender balance while also reaping the many benefits of diverse and inclusive leadership.”

To download a copy of the fifth report of the Balance for Better Business Review Group click here 


Principal Connections - executive search is Ireland's Top Diversity and Inclusion Executive Search Firm. At Principal Connections, we believe that we have an important role to play in helping our clients build diverse leadership teams.

Clients engage us to address the growing importance of diversity in their employee population. Companies that incorporate inclusion strategies in their business have stronger financial performance and provide greater shareholder value. Principal Connections has a strong track record in diversity search assignments and embraces the global reality of diversity and inclusion.

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