Scotland’s gender scandal: Part I – Tokenism at the top

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By Kenneth Roy

Many of Scotland’s major public bodies fail a gender equality target officially recommended for UK boardrooms by the coalition government. The results of a Scottish Review survey demonstrate that Scotland is a long way from shattering the ‘glass ceiling’ which prevents gifted women from getting to the top and that our reputation as a male-dominated culture is shifting painfully slowly.

The pressures for reform are considerable – and growing. Earlier this month, EU justice commissioner Vivien Redding launched a three-month consultation on how to redress the gender imbalance in Europe’s boardrooms.

By Kenneth Roy

Many of Scotland’s major public bodies fail a gender equality target officially recommended for UK boardrooms by the coalition government. The results of a Scottish Review survey demonstrate that Scotland is a long way from shattering the ‘glass ceiling’ which prevents gifted women from getting to the top and that our reputation as a male-dominated culture is shifting painfully slowly.

The pressures for reform are considerable – and growing. Earlier this month, EU justice commissioner Vivien Redding launched a three-month consultation on how to redress the gender imbalance in Europe’s boardrooms. Ms Redding says she is ‘not a great fan of quotas, but likes the results they bring’. In non-EU Norway, companies are legally obliged to appoint women to 40% of places; in Finland, where there is no statutory requirement, women make up 27% of boards of leading companies. At least two EU member states are said to be moving towards a legally binding quota, while Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has called her country’s overwhelmingly male boardrooms ‘scandalous’.

Meanwhile, in this country, the Davies inquiry ruled out the setting of quotas to force companies to hire female directors, but proposed that FTSE 100 companies should aim for a minimum of 25% female board representation by 2015. Lord Davies, who led the review, said that ‘radical change is needed to ensure that more top jobs are open to talented women’.

Both these initiatives – in the EU and the UK – are aimed at the private sector. We argue that the public sector should be setting an example and that, unless it does, the private sector is entitled to respond that it is being unfairly singled out.

So we applied the Davies test to Scotland’s public bodies. We discovered not only that many of them are missing the 25% target but that some are missing it shockingly badly.

Quality Meat Scotland is ‘responsible for helping the red meat sector improve its efficiency and profitability, and maximise its contribution to Scotland’s economy’. Its 12-person board is a female-free zone. Although this is not the only all-male board, it is the worst offender because it is so large. Its composition poses the question of why women, who cook so much of this stuff, are not to be trusted with safeguarding its standards.

The Lands Tribunal of Scotland consists of four blokes.

The Water Industry Commission is made up of a Gordon, a David and a Charles.

The Scottish Police Services Authority is one of our newer public bodies. It came into being in 2007 to advise on a range of support services for the police. Did it bring with it a modern awareness of the need for gender equality? Not a bit: there is only woman on the seven-member board. (Her name is Jeane Freeman, who also crops up as chair of the National Waiting Times Centre and on the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, where she is one of three women on a 10-member board).

Other lone females include Dr Isobel Macphail at the Crofters’ Commission, Dorothy Fenwick at VisitScotland and Primrose Stark at MacBraynes, each of whom serves on a six-member board. It’s one out of five at the Scottish Law Commission (Laura Dunlop), at the Local Goverment Boundary Commission (Paula Sharp), at Highlands and Islands Airports (Linn Phipps), at Children’s Hearing Scotland (Linda Watt), and at the Scottish Local Authority Remuneration Committee (Marlene Anderson).

Architecture and Design Scotland promotes itself as the national champion for excellence in architecture and planning. But it is not the national champion in female representation. True, it does have a woman chair, Karen Anderson, but the rest of the board consists of eight men and

one woman (Branka Dimitrijevic). Its environmental companion, Scottish Natural Heritage, manages two women (Susan Walker and Joan Mitchell) out of 10.

It’s an unimpressive one out of eight at Scottish Water (Lynne Peacock). But the blackest mark goes to the national economic regeneration agency, Scottish Enterprise, with one woman out of 11 – Linda Urquhart. None of these organisations hits Davies’s modest target.

Some others do a little better, but still fail to meet target. Christine May and Linda Pollock are the only women on the 12-strong board of the Accounts Commission for Scotland, which is responsible for the auditing of Scotland’s public bodies. Jean Couper chairs the highly sensitive Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, whose report on the Megrahi prosecution continues to leak, but the only other woman on the nine-member commission is Frances McMenamin. The Scottish Qualifications Authority itself fails to qualify with two women out of nine – Susan Walsh and Carole Wilkinson.

The arts and sport perform just as badly. Sir Angus Grossart, chair of the National Museums of Scotland, has nine other men on his board and only two women – Anna Gregor and Isabel Bruce. Sir Sandy Crombie at Creative Scotland heads a board of nine whose only female members are Ruth Wishart and Gayle McPherson. With the Commonwealth Games bound for Glasgow in two years, Sportscotland presents the wrong image: two women (Louise Martin and Carolan Dobson) on a board of nine.

This is a terrible record. It invites accusations of tokenism and suggests that the SNP goverment has much to do before it can claim to have redressed the balance and emulated the achievements in gender equality of our Scandinavian neighbours.

Tomorrow, in the second part of this survey, we will look at how the private sector in Scotland compares.

 

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