Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Telegraph Top 100 Companies: Only three firms led by women

Sara Venning
Sara Venning
Elaine Birchall
Darina Armstrong
Aine Brolly
Belfast Telegraph’s Top 100 guide
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

A top recruiter has called for companies to do more to ensure women progress in work after the Belfast Telegraph Top 100 for 2019 showed that just 3% of the biggest firms here are led by women.

The representation of women in this year's list is one of the lowest of recent years. Three years ago, three of the top five firms were led by women.

Recruitment specialist Aine Brolly of executive search company Ardlinn said she was disappointed at the low representation of women in this year's Top 100.

The Belfast Telegraph Top 100 in partnership with law firm Arthur Cox is compiled by economist Professor John Simpson on the basis of company pre-tax profits.

And Ms Brolly had a message for the 97 firms who are led by men. She said: "Those 97 firms need to focus on their female talent and how they progress through their organisations."

Of the three firms with female leaders in the Top 100, the highest placed is Northern Ireland Water, the government-owned company at number two with pre-tax profits of £94.5m. It's led by Sara Venning.

And SHS Group, the Belfast-based consumer goods company behind brands such as Shloer, is led by Elaine Birchall. With a pre-tax profits level of £24.4m, it's at number 20.

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The third female leader in the Top 100 is Darina Armstrong, at the helm of Progressive Building Society at number 54. It has pre-tax profits of £9m.

But Sara Venning, who has been NI Water chief executive for five years, said the lack of women was a matter of "fact" and was something which should be met with pragmatism.

"Rather than thinking it's disappointing or shocking, it's just fact. The industry I am in is a bit like the corporate world as a whole, which in the past has tended to be more attractive to males, so you've had decades of quite low employee turnover. And I think that because we have that ageing older workforce, we now have a huge opportunity to increase diversity and the representation of women in our own workforce."

But she said that she believed in fairness in the workplace: "If there's a job to be done, then the best person has to do it, regardless of gender."

Along with Trisha McAuley, a non-executive director, she is one of two women on the board of NI Water.

Roseann Kelly, Women in Business chief executive, expressed her disappointment, saying the figure of 3% did not "represent the female talent and expertise we have available in Northern Ireland".

She added: "I would call on local business to reassess their gender diversity procedures - a balanced workforce is good for business, it is good for customers, for profitability and workplace culture."

Ms Brolly said the lack of female business leaders reflected that many of the top companies belong in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

"Bigger, older, traditional companies will just by default have less females because they have had that culture of factory floor being mostly men.

Justin Patty, Arthur Cox, and Jackie Reid and Richard Packenham, Belfast Telegraph.
Justin Patty, Arthur Cox, and Jackie Reid and Richard Packenham, Belfast Telegraph.
Johanna Cunningham, Erin Carruthers, and Katie Millar, Arthur Cox.
Colm McElroy, Arthur Cox and Paul Stanfield, Firmus Energy
Chris Milligan, Mark Jameson, and Stuart Mansfield, Arthur Cox
Linda McKillen and Kellie-Ann Hoey, SHS Group
Margaret Canning, Belfast Telegraph and Lynsey Mallon, Arthur Cox
Rajesh Rana, Andras House, Michael Graham, GRAHAM, and Mark Walker, Hilton
Paul Stanfield, Firmus Energy, Andrew Greer, SSE, and David Black, Arthur Cox
Colm McElroy, Arthur Cox, and Michael Scott, Firmus Energy
John Healy, Allstate NI, Mark Ennis, SSE, Margaret Canning, Belfast Telegraph, Kevin Kingston, Danske Bank, and John Simpson, economist
Cahal Carvill, Arthur Cox, Liam McDonald, Whitemountain, William Curry, Arthur Cox, and Damian Heron, Heron Bros
Simon Campbell, Portview and Alan Taylor, Arthur Cox
Ian Wright, NIIB Group, Claudine Herron, W&R Barnett, and William Thompson, Bank of Ireland
Paul McBride, Arthur Cox and Kevin Lagan, Lagan Specialist Contracting Group

"But the fact that only three of the top companies have female chief executives is really poor on our part."

She said research suggested that one fifth of board members in top companies are female.

Belfast Telegraph