Belfast Telegraph

Only three of Northern Ireland's top firms led by women


Women remain under-represented in senior positions across a wide range of major employment sectors in Northern Ireland (stock photo)
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Women remain under-represented in senior positions across a wide range of major employment sectors in Northern Ireland.

Shockingly, only three of the Belfast Telegraph's Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2018 are now led by female chief executives.

Despite women making up half of the working age population, men occupy 57% of the top jobs, analysis of over 7,000 roles across 10 sectors has shown.

The continuing disparity has led to renewed calls to tackle the "glass ceiling" in the workplace.

The Belfast Telegraph analysed 7,104 jobs across 10 sectors and found that 4,047 (57%) of the top roles are occupied by men, while women occupied 3,057 (43%) of prestigious posts.

In some areas, more than 90% of the senior roles are held by men. Among the main findings were:

l Women occupy just 34% (22) of the top 65 jobs in the judiciary.

l Nearly three quarters (46) of the PSNI's most senior ranks are held by men, with women holding 17 (27%) of the top 63 roles at superintendent level and above.

l Almost three quarters of councillors (73%) in local authorities are men, while only three of Northern Ireland's 11 councils have female CEOs.

l Women make up just over a third of self-employed barristers (229), with only 16 women occupying the most senior role of Queen's Counsel - compared with 74 men.

l Two thirds of the top jobs at universities here are held by men.

l Men also dominate the Assembly, health and the civil service.

l Overall, 60% of school principals (690) are women - but more men lead schools in the post primary sector (55%).

Tina McKenzie, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was "really disappointing" that there were now only three female chief executives in the Belfast Telegraph's Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2018.

"I think we've got a lot more work to do - in education I think we've got to get out earlier into primary schools and there's more work to be done in secondary schools as to what opportunities are there for women," she said.

"If women can see women doing the job, they're much more likely to think they can do it.

"I think things are changing for the better, but taking on a senior role does require you to be flexible, to compromise and to have a lot of support around you, especially if you have children.

"It's not usually a nine-to-five job - there are compromises and sacrifices, and invariably women pick up the responsibilities of caring in society.

"I think we've still got a patriarchal society in Northern Ireland.

"Some of the views are still quite old-fashioned in our society as to the place of a woman and the expectations of women."

Green Party leader Clare Bailey said that she was not surprised by the figures.

"I think there's been very little effort within some sectors to really address gender inequality within management and structures," she said.

"I think this situation still persists because it takes time for new people to come through the ranks, and there are barriers especially when you reach the top - chief executives, chairs of boards - the appointments process is all geared towards male structures.

"I think bosses need to actively start trying to address gender imbalance within their organisations.

"It's being the only female face around the board table and having to work a wee bit harder to get yourself acknowledged, to get your point of view across and to be seen as valid."

Ms Bailey condemned the ongoing discrimination and sexual harassment some women still face, adding that the expectation that women will bear the burden of caring responsibilities also creates disadvantage.

"It's pregnancy, childcare, for young women it's employers taking the view 'she's going to have babies'," she continued.

"The gender pay gap is still there too.

"There's a knock-on potential hazard of Brexit, in that equal pay really comes from EU legislation, so it's another big concern.

"The majority of part-time roles would be women, the majority of zero hour workers would be women, and the lifelong income of a woman is seriously less than a man's.

"All sectors benefit when they have a gender-balanced workforce, particularly if they have a gender-balanced board, because you get more balanced and sustainable decision-making."

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Equality Commission Chief Executive Evelyn Collins said that around a quarter of all annual enquiries to her organisation's discrimination advice team came from women seeking advice about possible sex discrimination, and almost all related to their work.

"Heading the list of complaints are those about pregnancy and maternity, followed by sexual harassment and the work environment," she writes.

"We support a number of women to challenge discrimination at work each year, so that people know their rights and employers know their responsibilities.

"We also work with employers to promote equal opportunities for women and the need for policies and practices that support recruitment and retention of women in the workplace."

Civil Service

Jobs examined: 476

Men: 267 (56%)

Women: 209 (44%)

Some 44% of senior civil servants in the top six grades are women.

The head of the Civil Service here has always been a man, and is currently David Sterling.

Just four of the 12 Permanent Secretaries are women.

Meanwhile, 13 of the 35 Under Secretaries (37%) and 67 of the 163 Assistant Secretaries (41%) are women.

The situation is better at Senior Principal level, where 127 women (48%) and 138 men (52%) occupy the posts.

School principals

Jobs examined: 1,143

Men: 453 (40%)

Women: 690 (60%)

The only sector in which more women than men are in senior positions overall, but this fluctuates depending on school category. All 95 nursery school principals are women, while 480 primary and preparatory principals are female compared with 328 males. But in the post-primary sector, 90 women (45%) and 111 men (55%) head up grammar and non-grammar schools. However, more women were principals of special schools than men — 25, as opposed to 14.


Jobs examined: 63

Men: 46 (73%)

Women: 17 (27%)

Eight of the 10 officers who hold the rank of Chief Superintendent are men. And of the 46 police officers who hold the rank of Superintendent, just 14 are women. Only one of the top seven operational roles in the PSNI is currently held by a woman, and even that is on a temporary basis.

Barbara Gray is acting up as Temporary Assistant Chief Constable, and holds the Crime Operations portfolio previously held by Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin.


Jobs examined: 104

Men: 97 (93%)

Women: 7 (7%)

Just three female chief executives remain among firms surveyed in the Belfast Telegraph Top 100 NI Companies 2018: Sara Venning, NI Water; Elaine Birchall, SHS Group, and Darina Armstrong, Progressive Building Society.

All four of NI’s main business groups are led by women: Federation of Small Businesses, Tina McKenzie; Institute of Directors NI, Kirsty McManus; NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ann McGregor, and CBI in NI, Angela McGowan.

Legal profession

Jobs examined: 652

Men: 423 (65%)

Women: 229 (35%)

The most senior level, Queen’s Counsel (QC), here is overwhelmingly occupied by men: 74 men compared to 16 women.

Of the 652 self-employed, independent barristers practising from the Bar Library in Belfast, just over a third (229) are female, and 423 male. Of the 369 barristers serving for more than 14 years, (102) are women.

Of the 124 barristers working for 8-14 years, 69 are male (56%), 55 are female (44%).

Of 159 barristers with up to seven years’ experience, 87 (55%) are male, and 72 (45%) are female.


Jobs examined: 905

Men: 588 (65%)

Women: 317 (35%)

The Vice Chancellors of both Queen’s University and Ulster University are male, and, overall, men occupy more senior posts at both institutions.

At Queen’s, five of the six Pro Vice Chancellors are men, while 13 of the 16 Heads and Deputy Heads of Schools are also male.

Just three out of the 12 Deans are female. Among academic staff, less than a quarter (44) of the 181 professors are female.

At Ulster University, just one of the three Pro Vice Chancellors is female but both Deans are women. The 12 Associate Dean roles are split equally between men and women, as are the 20 positions of Heads of School. But 68% of the 128 Professors are men (87) compared with 41 women (32%).


Jobs examined: 90

Men: 61 (68%)

Women: 29 (32%)

Of the 90 seats in the Assembly, just under a third (29) are held by women, and two thirds by men.

The leaders of three of the five main political parties here — DUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance — are women, as is the deputy leader of the SDLP.

In comparison, 36% of Members of the Scottish Parliament are women, compared to 47% of Assembly Members in the National Assembly for Wales.

Health Service

Jobs examined: 3,122

Men: 1,715 (55%)

Women: 1,407 (45%)

In one of the most senior medical roles, that of consultant, there was a marked gender divide.

Of the 1,800 consultants, only 667 were female (37%), while 1,133 (63%) were male.

Of the 1,322 GPs, 56% (740) are women, while 582 are men (provisional figures).


Jobs examined: 65

Men: 43 (66%)

Women: 22 (34%)

Only two of Northern Ireland’s nine High Court judges are women, while all three Lords Justice of Appeal and Lord Chief Justice are all male.

A third (six) of the 18 County Court Judges are female.

Seven of the 20 District Judges in Magistrates Courts are women, including presiding District Judge Fiona Bagnall. However, there are slightly more female Masters of the High Court than male — four women hold the position, and three men.

There is a 50/50 split amongst District Judges in civil courts, with two women (including presiding District Judge Isobel Brownlie) and two men.

One of the three full-time permanent coroners one is female, Suzanne Anderson.


Jobs examined: 484

Men: 354 (73%)

Women: 130 (27%)

Out of Northern Ireland’s 11 councils, three have female chief executives — Jacqui Dixon of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Suzanne Wylie of Belfast City Council, and Anne Donaghy of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Of the 462 councillors across Northern Ireland, just over a quarter (123) are women, while 339 are men.

And only four of the 11 councils are led by female mayors.

Holding the post of Lord Mayor at Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is UUP Cllr Julie Flaherty, while Sinn Fein Cllr Deirdre Hargey is Lord Mayor of Belfast.

In addition, Sinn Fein Cllr Brenda Chivers is Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, while UUP Cllr Lindsay Millar is Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Figures correct as of October 2018/February 2019

Belfast Telegraph


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