Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 implementation: consultation analysis

This report presents the main messages arising from the consultation on the implementation of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 (the Act).

Section 11

Examples of Good Practice


The draft guidance concludes with some examples of good practice, including examples of steps to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members, and examples of other steps that could be taken.

Question 18:

Do you have any comments on the guidance on good practice examples? If so, please let us know

The main theme that emerged from the feedback was concern around the use of the term "gender" and the definition of "woman" for the purposes of the Act.

Where wider comments were provided, these are reflected below:

  • Some respondents said that good practice examples provided within the guidance were useful and helpful in suggesting a range of ways to increase gender balance and board diversity. It was considered important to highlight and extract the key learning in terms of what had worked well in encouraging more women to both apply and succeed in being appointed. There was also acknowledgment that the suggested good practice examples were just one step in achieving gender representation in public authorities.
  • Respondents suggested that good practice guidance could be used as the basis for training/development sessions for public authorities and appointing persons.
  • The importance of consulting with women's organisations and with women was emphasised by respondents – to better understand the "structural barriers that limit participation by women". This point is further illustrated in the respondent quote below.

"Fine-grained accounts of what helps and hinders women's applications would be a useful basis on which to build good practice".

  • Aligned to the above point, was feedback from respondents that working with, and through women's organisations should be encouraged (e.g. targeted outreach). Such organisations were said to bring specific expertise and knowledge, and established networks, contacts and relationships with women at a local level. This point is reflected in the respondent quotes on the next page.

"Women are more likely to self-select themselves out of a recruitment process based on misperceptions of their skills, knowledge and experience in comparison to men, and therefore acknowledge the power in approaching individual women, as well as holding outreach sessions".

"Go to where woman congregate and talk to them, community groups, church groups do this at community level, word of mouth best publicity but face to face best to convince".

  • The importance of widening the methods and approaches used to advertise public appointments available was also highlighted by respondents, and the importance of positive and inclusive advertising material explicitly encouraging applications from under-represented groups. Statements naming the groups to encourage applications were said to be helpful (e.g. LGBTI women).
  • There was recognition among respondents that women are not a homogenous group and what encourages one group of women to apply to become a board member may not resonate with others.
  • There was some reference by respondents to the importance of outreach work in recruitment rounds, and that this had worked well for some public authorities in terms of increasing the diversity of candidates applying and appointments made.
  • For advertising and outreach work, respondents commented that promoting the benefit to the applicant of being on a board was a useful approach (i.e. developing leadership skills, widening networks, giving back).
  • There were some references by respondents to specific third sector organisations that could provide expertise/support, for example:
    • Equate Scotland - language reviews and unconscious bias training.
    • Changing the Chemistry - seeks to improve diversity of thought in the boardroom (diversity of thought being identity, cognitive and experiential diversity). It provides advice and support to oranisations seeking help in diversifying their boards.
    • SCVO - can help undertake campaigns (e.g. around young trustees).
  • It was highlighted by respondents that role descriptions can be put through a gender decoder (free online) which provide organisations with feedback on whether their wording could be putting off women from applying. This point is reflected in the respondent quote on the next page.

"Women tend to prefer more information and context. Rather than referring to another paper with off-putting words, it would be much easier to include the words in the guidance (and quote the research paper). Our experience is to make the process as simple as possible. There should also be advice on considering the make-up of the selection panel, whether this is done by the sponsor team or the body, to ensure it is as diverse as possible".

  • The importance of developing and promoting a culture in which women can be accommodated with flexibility was emphasised by respondents – for example: removing financial barriers, childcare support, accommodating of pregnancy and maternity leave, the time/length of meetings and events.
  • The importance of continued training and support – role model programmes, shadowing, board observers, mentoring as an aspect of succession planning, buddying of an existing board member, and seminars were some of the activities mentioned by respondents.

Where specific comments were made on the guidance itself, these are outlined below:

  • Respondents felt that the guidance should to be subject to periodic review and refreshed in line with lessons learned from good practice – and it should be made accessible. It was considered important that organisations could find the examples easily. It was suggested that ongoing monitoring and reporting by public authorities' would help inform this process (e.g. help identify any innovative or successful measures).
  • A few respondents referred to The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland and recently published new case studies on good practice in diversity in governance[9]. It was felt that the case studies provide examples of how diversity is harnessed effectively by disparate boards following the appointment of more diverse members. It was suggested that the new case studies might be included in the final version of the guidance as an additional resource for appointing persons considering potential improvements to their practices.
  • Respondents commented that the guidance could more explicitly cross reference some of the elements of the best practice guide in order to make clear where examples for specific actions could be found. Here, it was felt that it was not necessarily clear how the two sections of the guidance – the statutory element and the Good Practice Guide – relate to one another. A few respondents mentioned that the document as a whole is dense and text heavy.

Suggestions included that it may be better to consider having two documents that better cross reference one another, so that it is clear how the guidance applies to individual organisations with references to examples in the good practice guide.

  • Feedback from respondents was that there should be much more on creating the right culture in the boardroom and ensuring everyone is listened to, otherwise having more board diversity will not necessarily deliver the full range of benefits.
  • One respondent posed the question "what exactly is meant by structural and systemic bias in this context"? It was felt that this should be explained in simple language so that it is clear to all and the right action and training implemented. Further, it was suggested that advice should also be given on the support provided for new board members (e.g. buddy of an existing board member).
  • Respondents commented that the guidance should consider that relevant experience might not only come in the form of paid employment, but also in relation to many women's unpaid roles (e.g. mothers, home-makers, carers for sick and/or elderly relatives, volunteers). It was felt that these roles were important and relevant and, that greater weight could be given to personal qualities, talents and aptitudes than simply recognisable experiences on boards and positions of public or commercial responsibility.



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