This month, we celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. It’s an occasion that is hugely significant globally and provides us with a great opportunity to acknowledge the huge contributions made by women in the social, economic, cultural and political sphere. In particular, we wanted to use International Women’s Day to reflect on what is being done in Ireland by employers and the government to help create a better-balanced workforce. Also, we consider what more we can do to support women in the workplace.

What has the Irish Government done to further gender balance in the workplace?

The answer, thankfully, is actually quite a lot recently! There were a number of legislative measures taken to further gender balance in the workplace and imposing of certain minimum standards on business to enforce compliance. We examine some of the more recent employment law updates below that could impact gender balance in Irish workplaces.

Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021
Unfortunately, gender pay gaps persist in Ireland and around the world, and work is still to be done to ensure that women have equal access to economic equity. In 2020, the latest information from Eurostat, measured the gender pay gap in the EU at 13.0 %,  Ireland compares favourably, with the most recent official national figures for the gender pay gap in Ireland from 2019 finding a 11.3% gap.

The Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 was signed into law on July 13, 2021. Initially applicable to larger businesses of 250+ employees, where reporting requirements commenced in 2022, all employers of 50 or more employees can expect to be impacted by the Act over the coming years. Under the Act, organisations are obliged:

  • to analyse and publicly report the hourly gender pay gap across a range of metrics.
  •   pay gap between its male and female employees.
  • to publish a statement setting out the reasons for the differences (if they exist) and any proposed actions to be taken by the employer to eliminate the gap.

It’s hoped that mandatory Gender pay gap reporting will help employers to identify the drivers behind their individual gender pay gaps and it will also provide transparency for employees on which companies are doing the most to address their gender pay gap.

Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021
While the Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 helps support the overall gender balance, there is still an issue with senior positions in Irish organisations. According to the Gender Balance in Business Survey 2021 from the Central Statistics Office just 13.4% of CEOs in Ireland are female, up slightly on 2019 when the figure stood at 11.5%.

To help address this issue a new Private Members’ Bill was brought forward in October 2021. The Irish Corporate Governance (Gender Balance) Bill 2021, if enacted, would establish a 40% quota for female representation on company boards. The Bill includes a stipulation that 33% of a company’s board must be women after the first year of its enactment. This quota would then rise to 40% after three years. This Bill has completed Dáil Eireann, Second Stage.

Work-Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022
Work-life balance should not be a choice between a successful career and a fulfilling family life. The Work-Life Balance Bill proposes that five days of unpaid leave will be available for all family members to support those with medical needs. Carers or parents will also have the right to request flexible or compressed work hours. It is hoped that these provisions will encourage a more equal sharing of family-related leave between men and women. Also, under the Bill, there will be an entitlement for paid breastfeeding breaks as well as paid leave for victims of domestic violence.

What can Irish businesses do to improve gender equality?
Embedding Diversity & Inclusion in an Organisation is more than having a policy in place, it is about building awareness through training and embedding inclusive practices in the employee journey and the Organisational culture to ensure the workplace is one which promotes an environment of diversity and inclusion for everyone.

Our HR Barometer Report published in November 2022 found that 33% of Organisations introduced new initiatives and programmes in 2022 to help improve gender balance. Quite often, Organisations may feel rushed or pressured into implementing initiatives that are not necessarily fit for the purpose of their business. Assessing where balance is required, and the appropriateness of the steps taken varies from employer to employer.

(Source Adare HRM HR Barometer Series 6.2)

From our HR Barometer report we found that the top 3 initiatives introduced by Organisations included increased flexible working practices, embedding D&I into talent acquisition strategies and establishing an Equality and Diversity Committee.

It’s heartening to see that the most popular step taken to address Diversity and Inclusion is increasing flexible working arrangements, in our view the most effective way to develop an environment that provides options for both working parents, but specifically female employees.

While every Organisation is different, any initiatives under consideration must be carefully assessed in order to avoid the unintended consequence of being accused of being overtly biased. However, with the right mix for the right result for business, Organisations will get buy-in across the board.

Why should Organisations care about gender balance?

In addition to the ethical argument for gender balance, there are additional far-reaching benefits to an equal-opportunity workplace. We know getting the balance right across organisations drives a more successful and cohesive business environment for everybody. It creates better workplaces and better decision-making led by an engaged workforce with opportunities for everyone.

To help achieve a more meaningful gender balance, practical policies and practices should be put in place to support the intention for real change in this area. There is a need to implement measurable, practical strategies to genuinely shift the scales in favour of a fairer and more transparent gender balanced landscape, including setting meaningful targets for change and involving both genders to deliver a better balance.

What initiatives should employers consider to improve gender balance in their business?

Encourage employees to highlight bias: People can be unconsciously biased so unconscious bias training should be introduced for all staff, which can be part of Diversity and Inclusion training. Education is a key tool in raising awareness of gender equality. It is also important for employers to review all documentation to ensure gender-neutral language is used, e.g. job specifications, job adverts, etc.

Flexible working arrangements: As we highlighted flexible working arrangements can support parents gain greater balance with their work life and can help to redress the gender balance at work. The right to request remote working will be integrated into the Work Life Balance Bill.

Gender pay gap: Employers need to look to address any gender pay gap in their Organisation and ensure all employees are remunerated equally for the same job.

Gender-balanced recruitment: Job descriptions should promote greater gender equality and interview panels should have a diverse and gender balanced composition.

Menopause supports: Approximately 600,000 women in Ireland are affected by menopause at any one time. And, up to 60% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms report that it has a negative impact on their work. Many feel they miss out on promotions and training and report that they lose confidence in their work. Also, legal issues may emerge in respect of discrimination on grounds of gender, disability and/or age under the Employment Equality Acts and hazard or risk control measures may arise in respect of the Health and Safety Law.

Female Leadership: It is important for companies to actively promote women to leadership positions. This can include setting targets for gender diversity at senior levels, and ensuring that recruitment and promotion processes are fair and transparent.

Creating Irish workplaces that are fair, inclusive and successful

For change to happen, the workplace must become a more welcoming environment for both men and women. Balance is not exclusively a women’s issue, it involves everyone from the top down, and success in shifting the dial comes when balance is embraced by all. International Women’s Day provides an important opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made toward gender equality in the workplace, as well as the work that still needs to be done. As HR experts, it is our responsibility to ensure that our workplaces are inclusive and supportive environments where all employees can thrive, regardless of their gender. By taking proactive steps to promote gender equality, we can help to create workplaces that are fair, inclusive, and successful.