Speech at launch of Balance for Better Business Report

29th May, 2019


 Thank you for coming to today’s launch of the first report by the Balance for Better Business initiative.


I would like to start by thanking my colleague Minister Stanton for developing and championing this.


To the co-chairs of the group, Brid Horan and Gary Kennedy: the substantive report we are launching today would not have been possible without your dedication and expertise.


Your belief in the importance of this issue and your willingness to roll up your sleeves and back that belief up with hard work is most appreciated.


You ably led an equally inspiring and talented team, including Aongus Hegarty, Danny McCoy, Dr Orlaigh Quinn, Martin Shanahan, Julie Sinnamon and Fiona Tierney.


I know all of you have busy enough day jobs as it is. Thank you for believing in this and giving up your time.


About business


Our purpose with this initiative is to support major Irish companies to achieve better gender balance in their leadership teams.


And this focus on business is a fair one. It’s a key part of what makes us who we are.


As a people we have always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, a strong sense of business acumen.


We travelled the world building cities and breaking new ground on a whole host of business frontiers.


Where there was opportunity the Irish were never far behind.


But for far too long this economic success appeared to be more aspirational than real in our own country.


The task ahead of us is to ensure that this success provides a foundation for a more inclusive form of prosperity.


To innovate you need to be open


Over recent weeks and months I have regularly discussed the need, and argued, for political and economic openness.


Whether it be our role in the European Union.


Whether it be trying to make the case for a trans-Atlantic relationship that can work for both sides of the Atlantic.


So today I want to restate the case for continued and increasing openness and transparency in our society, through our labour market.


Much of this change must start at the top.


Breaking into senior leadership teams should not be about your gender, what school you went to or your eligibility to join the ‘old boys club’.


Everyone should have to earn their stripes and face the same challenges, and avail of opportunities, equally.


To succeed in business, at the level we are discussing today, you have to have travelled the hard road.


Along that road, you have to have experienced disappointment and failure and built resilience in order to take risks again.
You have done this because that is what great businesses and business leaders are made of.


And at its best business is a meritocracy.


Seeing the evolution in the landscape of senior business leaders in modern Ireland I am left in no doubt as to the overwhelming benefits to us all when you embrace openness and allow fairer competitive forces to shape destinies.


Increased diversity of thought and openness have been key to bringing us where we have gotten to.


But we must keep innovating.


We have to make sure that the business leaders of tomorrow are not side-lined because of their gender.


If we are to continue to compete and to thrive globally, we need to be a nexus of business and innovation, where youth and experience work hand in hand to ensure their businesses stays at the forefront of their industry.


We must take the best indigenous talent and attract the best international talent.
Our ambition must be to ensure that Ireland nurtures and attracts the best talent – regardless of gender.


The feminist campaigner and author Caroline Criado-Perez writes in her extraordinary recent book ‘Invisible Women’ of the habit of the ‘default male’ bias.


All of us in business and political life must renew our efforts to guard against this.


And I believe we are improving in this regard.


I will leave the detailed figures to Brid but the overall percentage of women on Irish publicly listed boards has increased in the last year from 14% to 16.4% and two of the ISEQ 20 companies have appointed women to their boards for the first time.


The trend is going the right way but it needs to relentlessly and passionately continue.


I all too frequently hear the excuse that it is hard to find appropriately qualified women for boards.


I do not accept this.


We should not accept this.


Two weeks ago I made four appointments to the board of Home Building Finance Ireland; a new entity I established to provide finance to the property sector


Finance and property are, traditionally, male dominated sectors.


Three of the four new board members were women. Importantly, they were all appointed on merit alone.



Since 2009 there has been a 73 per cent increase in women holding senior civil servant positions in Government departments. A jump from 19 per cent to 34 per cent.


Great changes are possible but we must work for them.


The Meritocracy


Businesses must be challenged to be part of an economic and social model that is inclusive, that is sustainable, and in which we all have a stake.


I believe, at its best, business is a meritocracy built on people having the right character, skills and behaviours rather than being based on gender, ethnicity or the school they attended.


This will ultimately lead to a more capable, effective, respected and inclusive business that attracts and retains the best customers and employees.


This in turn will help businesses to aspire to their highest level.


This is what the Ireland of today is becoming and we need to ensure that this continues to be the Ireland of tomorrow.


Ireland is a global leader across a number of sectors and that is something I am very proud to be able to say.


We need to continue to promote Ireland and its businesses to a worldwide audience.


We also need to future proof our economy for the challenges and opportunities ahead.


There are many ambitious plans to deliver on this, including the Project Ireland 2040, Rebuilding Ireland and Future Jobs Ireland.


But if we are serious then the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017 -2020 and initiatives that flowed from it, such as today, are just as important.




To compete globally and to keep our society changing in the way we want it to, we need to bring our best players to the fore, whatever their gender.
We simply cannot afford to have half of our best talent sitting on the bench or unable to avail of the equal opportunity to succeed.
We simply cannot build the companies and economy of the future without more women on the leadership teams of our top firms.

And socially we cannot tolerate a system that restricts the opportunities of our fellow citizens, our colleagues, our family and our friends like this.


I would like to thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from the other speakers about concrete ways we can keep the positive momentum going.