Gillian Hardford is the country executive at the 30% Club Ireland, sponsored by Ernst & Young Ireland (EY).

The 30% club is a business-led campaign to boost female representation at board and C-Suite level in the world’s biggest companies. It is supported by chairs and CEOs of medium to large organisations who, according to Gillian, are “genuinely committed to creating greater gender balance at the most senior level of their organisations”.

Gillian tells Irish Country Living: “They do it because they genuinely believe it creates better business outcomes. It’s not enough to have diversity and inclusion in your organisation – you have to make sure that it translates to senior roles of influence.”

Creating modern work places

Gillian worked in finance with Allied Irish Bank (AIB) for 40 years and later became a volunteer in the 30% Club in 2015, when AIB joined. After retiring from AIB, Gillian became more involved in the 30% club and is now the country executive.

She says: “It’s a great opportunity to work on something you are passionate about. For me, it is important in terms of creating modern workplaces for men and women.”

Gillian says the way the 30% Club works is that an organisation joins through their CEO and then the CEO nominates a senior business leader to represent the organisation as a volunteer.

When the 30% Club was established in Ireland in 2015, the female gender balance across the boards of the ISEQ 20 (Ireland stock exchange overall index) stood at 12%. By 2021, through a concerted effort by chairs, CEOs and board actions the number had grown to 31%.

The membership now totals nearly 300 chairs and chief executives of organisations, representing the full breadth of Irish business and education. Ultimately, this represents “nearly 700,000 employees across Ireland,” according to Gillian.

She says: “We are really proud of how Ireland is talking about diversity and inclusion from a business perspective.”

The 30% Club focuses on three key areas:

  • Activating senior leaders by engaging chairs and CEOs of companies to help them include diversity and inclusion in their business strategy.
  • Influencing at a national level on diversity-related topics and campaigns like Balance for Better Business’ a Government initiative that encourages Irish companies to set targets at their highest senior levels.
  • Enabling future women leaders by supporting the development of talent pipelines through executive education scholarships, which awards 25-30 scholarships every year.
  • AgDif

    There are six industry groups within the 30% Club that work on initiatives specific to their sector. AgDif is diversity and inclusion in the Irish food and drink industry, led by Bord Bia and Aon. The purpose of AgDif is to advance the diversity and inclusion agenda within the Irish food and drink industry; focusing on gender balance at first.

    The 30% Club are the gender diversity partners in the AgDif group. Gillian says: “It gives us the opportunity to work across the Origin Green organisations and it’s helped bring some of the learnings from other industries into food and drink [sector].”

    Gillian describes it as one of their most interesting sectors: “There are so many people employed in the industry. It’s so important and it has a mixture of large and small organisations.” Smaller companies can benefit from groups like AgDif, as they can make organisational changes quickly. “One or two small tweaks can really change the dial of the company,” Gillian says.

    Balance for Better Business

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

    Some of the findings include:

  • Representation of women on boards of the ISEQ20 exceeds the 30% target for 2022 at 36%.
  • Representation of women across all publicly listed boards exceeds 30% for the first time at 32%.
  • In the fourth quarter, the highest number of women ever in the workforce (60%) was recorded.
  • Advice for companies

    Gillian advises companies in the food and drink space to be active in diversity and inclusion efforts. “Get involved with the 30% Club, get involved with AgDif and find a way to talk to each other. There is no one size fits all. We can find ways for similar-sized companies to work together to change things for the Irish industry.”

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