A ‘clear disconnect’ exists on gender equality between agri-business CEOs and employees

There is “a clear disconnect” between CEOs and their employees on some of the key issues around diversity and inclusion in the Irish food and drink sector, a new survey has found.

While 84% of business leaders state that gender equality, diversity and inclusion are “priorities” for their organisation, only 63% of employees believe this is true where they work.

One in five employees believe diversity and inclusion are “a box to be ticked”.

These are some of the lead findings in a new survey released today, Tuesday, May 26, from the Agri-Food Diversity and Inclusion Forum developed by Bord Bia and Aon (the global professional services firm).

Other headline outcomes include the following:
  • 85% of business leaders in the Irish food and drink sector industry have stated that attracting and developing “diverse talent” within the industry impacts growth prospects;
  • Four out of five CEOs surveyed said they rank gender equality, diversity and inclusion as priorities for their organisation;
  • The survey also found that flexibility in the workplace is still the most important criteria for employees when assessing employment opportunities – some 79% say they are provided with flexibility in working hours and seven in 10 within the industry are offered the opportunity of either part-time working, job sharing or working from home options.

The survey is based on responses from 46 CEOs and senior business leaders; plus, 204 employees working in the sector.

In terms of the profile of respondents, it breaks down as:  61% female; 37% male; with 2% preferring not to say. A specific gender breakdown of the employees and the CEOs that participated in the survey is not available.

However, the organisations are said to have ranged in size from small companies to Ireland’s largest food and drink businesses – both in terms of turnover and employee numbers. A broad mix of roles and seniority levels participated in the research, from entry level and junior staff, to boards of directors and CEOs.

‘Perception gap’

The so-called “perception gap” between business leaders and “the lived experience” of employees is also evident in the progress made in attracting, retaining and progressing a diverse workforce to senior management.

The survey found that 86% of business leaders stated that advancements “have been made” in recent years – while only 65% of employees believing that to be the case.

And, while one in two business leaders think diversity and inclusion is “a high priority” within the organisation, the results found that 24% have not dedicated any time or focus to the issue.

At the same time, steps have been undertaken with the food and drink sector to create a diverse talent pool with 79% of employees confirming Irish food and drink firms offering graduate specific programmes – 76% offer part-time working and 86% providing health and wellness supports.

These measures are said to be “playing a role” in improving the attractiveness of the Irish food and drink industry to top talent with four in five employees surveyed choosing to work in the sector due to the opportunities offered to use their qualification – with seven in 10 highlighting the prospects of career advancement.

Shifting the needle

In response to the findings, Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy said: “It is evident from the data that, in line with the Origin Green charter, we are successfully advancing the diversity and inclusion agenda with 85% of CEO’s within the Irish food and drink industry, therefore enabling more companies to be in a strong position to compete to attract the best talent at all levels and across all fields of discipline.

“The difficulties posed by Covid-19 means that business leaders will now need to balance their short-term needs with a longer term vision of how diversity can contribute to strengthening the resilience of their business.

We believe that the insights from this survey will contribute to supporting the Irish food and drink industry on a road to recovery through innovation and diversity of thought.

“To assist in this process, the Agri-Food Diversity and Inclusion Forum has developed a free online toolkit for all companies in the food and drink industry, designed to embed a best practice culture in Irish businesses that will ensure that both companies, and the entire sector, remain competitive and attractive as a talent destination,” McCarthy said.

The CEO also outlined that Bord Bia has addressed the issue of attracting female talent, most recently, by appointing Deirdre Ryan as its director of Origin Green; having 60% females on its senior leadership team; and by welcoming its largest in-take of graduates in its 25-year history (across its Marketing Fellowship Programme, Origin Green Ambassador Programme and Food Works programmes) with 70 new graduates – 50:50 women.

“We believe that in two short years we have taken the correct steps in working towards shifting the needle on diversity and inclusion in this industry, and we look forward to building that momentum in the years ahead,” McCarthy said.

The survey is also part of a wider piece of research aimed at measuring existing diversity and inclusion metrics across the industry. The aim of this is to understand current challenges for women and to help accelerate diversity across the area over time.

By comparing the views of employees and “C-suite leaders” (executive-level managers within a company), the results also reveal some interesting differences in terms of perceptions and attitudes.


Ciara Jackson, who leads Aon Ireland’s food, agribusiness and drink practice, said: “The findings of our survey demonstrate the strong business case for diversity and inclusion.

“Companies in the agri-food sector who attract and retain a diverse employee group benefit from a mixture of perspectives, experiences and skills that are key to fostering innovation and driving business growth.

“The data identifies a perception gap between business leaders and the lived experiences of employees, so while there is evidence of a wide variety of diversity and inclusion activity happening in organisations, supported by a variety of policies, perhaps communication with employees needs to be clearer.

“At Aon, we encourage industry leaders to regularly review their diversity and innovation strategies and policies.

“Making flexibility really work can be a true differentiator in attracting and retaining talent. Offering and clearly communicating initiatives around health and well-being, flexibility and the organisation’s diversity and inclusion agenda and plans will help companies to actively promote their employer value proposition,” said Jackson.

The Forum

Over the course of the last year, the Agri-Food Diversity and Inclusion Forum (AgDIf) has rolled out a series of masterclasses to accelerate diversity in the agri-food sector, including webinars on: ‘How to Grow your Talent Pool’; ‘Creating a Culture of Flexible Working’; and ‘Overcoming your Recruitment Challenges’.

The AgDIf is a collaborative initiative with industry, led by Bord Bia and Aon, in partnership with The 30% Club in relation to gender diversity.

The initiative, created in 2017, aims to position the Irish food and drink sector as “the industry of choice” at “all levels” and across “all fields” of discipline.

The forum consists of an advisory group, supported by a taskforce, and includes business leaders from the following organisations: Accenture; Arthur Cox; Arytza; Dawn Meats; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; East Coast Bakehouse; Errigal Bay; Glanbia; Greencore; Irish Distillers; Keelings; Ornua; Kepak; Kerry Group; Ribworld; The 30% Club; Aon; and Bord Bia.

Meanwhile, the taskforce comprises members of Ceres; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Errigal Bay; Glanbia; Greencore; Ibec; Keelings; Kerry Group; Oliver Carty; Ornua; Ribworld; The 30% Club; Aon; and Bord Bia.