Scotland’s gender scandal: Part 2 – If you’re a woman in Scottish business, it pays not to be Scottish


By Kenneth Roy

The UK government wants to achieve 25% female representation in corporate boardrooms by 2015. But is the public sector setting an example which the private sector might feel inclined to follow? We showed yesterday how, in Scotland, it is not.

We named a couple of dozen major public bodies – including such institutions as Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Water, VisitScotland, Creative Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Law Commission – which fail to meet the modest 25% target. We named three organisations – Quality Meat, the Lands Tribunal, the Water Industry Commission – which are female-free zones.

We suggested that the equality record of Scottish public life smacks of tokenism at best.

Today, in part 2 of this Scottish Review survey, we look at the performance of the private sector. It is being invited to achieve a target which swathes of the public sector ignore. Is there any evidence that our top companies are taking this challenge seriously?

The Davies inquiry established by the coalition government, while rejecting the mandatory quota now being considered by the EU as a way of tackling gender inequality at the top, recommended FTSE 100 companies to aim for 25%.

We identified six FTSE 100 companies headquartered in Scotland.

The least impressive, from the point of view of equality, is the Glasgow-based power generator Aggreko. It isn’t easy to source the board of directors on the Aggreko website. Even when we keyed in ‘board of directors’ on its internal search engine, the board of directors failed to show. But we checked the most recent annual report of this company and found that, of its 11 directors, not one is a woman. In order to meet the Davies target, Aggreko would have to move from no female directors in 2012 to three in 2015.

Next worst is the Weir Group, the engineering giant with its HQ in Glasgow. Of its 11 directors, only one is a woman. Her name is Melanie Gee. She is managing director of Lazard’s UK investment banking business and appears to be based in London. On 6 March she bought shares valued at £48,950 in the Weir Group; at the time of writing, a fortnight later, she has made a gain of £1,075. Ms Gee has been praised in the financial press for this evidence of her commitment to the Weir Group.

Aggreko and Weir comprehensively miss the target.

Cairn Energy, which is Edinburgh-based and big in oil and gas, has two women on its nine-strong board: Jann Brown, the chief financial officer, and Jacqueline Sheppard QC, a non-exec. Ms Brown has a Scottish pedigree with her degree from Edinburgh University. She is reported to have a low boredom threshhold and a forthright style. Ms Sheppard is a Canadian businesswoman whose QC was awarded in the name of the Province of Alberta.

Cairn just misses the target.

Perth-based Scottish and Southern Energy, which has links back to the socially conscious North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board, has made a public commitment to the Davies recommendation – it expects to be ‘broadly compliant’ by 2015. At the moment, it has two women on a board of nine, so it narrowly fails to hit target. The two are American-born Lady Rice (Susan the banker, not the one who is married to the well-known lyricist of the same name), a familiar figure on many a committee; and Katie Bickerstaffe, CEO of Dixons Retail, based somewhere south of Berwick upon Tweed.

Two of the six are already compliant. Standard Life boasts three women on its 12-member board: bang on 25%. They are Jackie Hunt, the chief financial officer, a far-travelled woman who qualified as an accountant in Johannesburg and is credited with a measured and rational approach to business; Margaret McDonagh (now Baroness McDonagh), former general secretary of the Labour Party, with no known connection to Scotland; and Sheelagh Whittaker, another of the power women from Canada with a background in information technology. Ms Whittaker is on record as being ‘appalled’ by the few women in executive positions.

And, finally, there’s the taxpayer’s friend, RBS. After the crash of autumn 2008, and the subsequent exposure of the bank’s maschismo culture, it was deemed appropriate to import women into this boys’ own preserve. So onto the board came Penny Hughes, former UK president of Coca Cola; Sheila Noakes (now Baroness Noakes), a former KPMG partner; and Alison Davis, an American-based business superwoman, who combines a ‘plush Caifornia pad with a chateau in France where she chills out and recovers from the stresses of modern life’. None of this trio has any obvious Scottish credentials, although a lot of Coca Cola is consumed up here and we all suffer to some extent from the stresses of modern life.

A fourth woman on the RBS board is group secretary Aileen Taylor. Although her public profile is almost invisible, she is believed to be Scottish. In which case, she and Jann Brown are the only locals on the boards of FTSE 100 companies headquartered in Scotland. The number of directors of these companies is 66, of whom 12 are women: 18%. This is slightly better than the UK as a whole (16%), although markedly worse than France (22%), Finland (27%) and Norway (42%). But just as interesting as the stats is the revelation that a woman’s chances of rising to the top in Scotland’s private sector are considerably enhanced if she has somehow managed to be born somewhere else.


Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review