Encouraging Applications by Women
Section 5 places a requirement on appointing persons and public authorities to take such steps as they consider appropriate to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members of public boards. While it is for appointing persons and public authorities to determine what steps are appropriate, the guidance discusses how this might be approached. Reference may also be made to the Scottish Government's Succession Planning Guidance and Toolkit which seeks to help public bodies to develop effective succession plans for their boards.
Section 5(3) provides, for the avoidance of doubt, that subsections 5(1) and 5(2) do not prevent an appointing person or public authority from taking such steps as it considers appropriate to encourage persons with other protected characteristics (within the meaning of section 4 of the Equality Act 2010) to apply to become non-executive members of the public board.
Do you have any comments on the guidance on meeting the duties under section 5 of the Act? If so, please let us know.
The "gender" versus "sex" issue was commonly raised by respondents, and is reflected in the quotes below.
"Must ensure that women as a protected sex class are targeted specifically and not conflated with other gender related categories. BAME women, women with disabilities and lesbian women should clearly be included in such targeting".
"Persons with protected characteristics should be encouraged to apply, but only the successful recruitment of biological women should count towards meeting the objectives of this Act".
Some wider common themes reported were:
- Respondents felt that there should be transparency and consistency between appointing persons and public authorities on the steps undertaken to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members of public boards. Here, it was felt that the board and appointing persons should develop a degree of "gender competence, including an understanding of barriers faced by specific groups of women".
- Reporting on the steps taken to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members of public boards was considered important from both a transparency and good practice perspective. This is reflected in the quote below.
"…this could potentially be updated after each Ministerial reporting cycle to develop a bank of good practice examples".
- Respondents considered it appropriate that public bodies and appointing persons must demonstrate how they have approached their requirement to improve women's representation on their boards. The general view was that this should go beyond activities such as leaflets/emails. Here, meaningful engagement and consultation with women's organisations (and women) was emphasised to better understand why under representation takes place, and how best to overcome this. This point is reflected in the following quote from one respondent.
"All guidance must include the need for outreach measures to be wide ranging and delivered with an intersectional understanding. These steps should particularly focus on women who remain significantly under-represented: BME women, disabled women, women with caring responsibilities, and working class women. Furthermore the guidance should include explicit expectations for public authorities to work with third sector organisations to deliver this outreach competently to audiences they may otherwise not have access to".
- Respondents suggested that a wide range of factors should be taken into account in order to encourage women to apply for positions – wording used in adverts, times and lengths of meetings (if during school times), child care arrangements, and that networking opportunities and unpaid shadowing work alongside home responsibilities might not be practical. This point is reflected in the following quote from one respondent.
"We would like to see a culture shift in which women can be confident that they can be accommodated with flexibility. Steps which could be recommended would include childcare/creche vouchers, flexible hours, the ability to work from home at certain times, a company-wide one-stop-shop for outsourcing household responsibilities, and a strong culture encouraged of working in working hours, as opposed to presenteeism and evening networking. These are some of the steps which will encourage more women onto boards and also produce the next generation of women in senior positions".
- Various comments were provided on the guidance and reporting:
- Some respondents felt that the guidance should go beyond how new board members are welcomed. It was felt that advice around behaviours and culture should be expanded given how important these aspects are to ensuring a diverse board is effective. This point is reflected in the following quote from one respondent.
"It is equally important for boards to understand retention rates of women on boards and the practical and cultural changes to enable women to remain in post. This may include aspects such as childcare and meeting times as well as the importance of gender competence and training for public body chairs. Training for public boards should be conducted on outreach, equality and diversity, and unconscious bias".
- Respondents mentioned that the Act places the discretion on the organisation to determine the most appropriate steps to encourage applications by women. As such, it was felt that the guidance must be robust and more prescriptive so as to "indicate the multitudes of areas that public bodies and appointing persons should examine prior to vacancies arising".
- Respondents also raised points relating to the "practical steps that can be taken" as outlined in the guidance. It was suggested that the Scottish Government should consider more robust language such as "indicative steps which should inform those adopted by the public body or appointing person". This would indicate the expectation that specific steps will be taken under section 5 of the Act.
- Respondents suggested that the guidance should refer to changes that may be necessary to improve application visibility. Examples provided include linking up with third sector national and community groups that work with and represent women. Wider comments were that the Government should ensure that any networks or projects which aim to prepare women for board appointments are suitably supported and resourced.
- Respondents also felt that the guidance should stress the importance of appropriate recruitment criteria and its publication well in advance of the vacancy in the audience itself, not just the Good Practice Guide examples. This should include the importance of setting out clear and accurate expectations for board members in terms of time commitment, meeting agendas and the role expected to be played in and outside of board meetings.
- It was commented that PSED requirements relating to board diversity overlap with the need for succession planning processes. However, it was mentioned that succession planning was not referenced in section 4 of the guidance.
- Paragraph 4.8 of the guidance was also referred to into comments. It states that boards "will want to ensure that wider equality and diversity continue to be considered". The feedback was that this was not strong enough, and that the guidance should stress the importance of engaging with diverse groups of women to ensure that intersectional measures are front and centre of the steps taken by public authorities under Section 5.
- Respondents commented that although there is no duty to report on steps taken to encourage applications from people with other protected characteristics, it may be appropriate to make clear that this will not be discouraged where the reporter feels that the information would be helpful.
- Respondents agreed that reporting on how public authorities encourage more applications from women is useful. Some felt that the guidance should also encourage consideration of wider diversity as mentioned in the guidance to include other groups such as ethnic minorities, disabled and young people.