The Scottish Government Public Appointments Team (PAT) and the Ethical Standards Commissioner (ESC) ran a pilot mentoring project in 2017/18 aimed at improving the diversity of the cohort of public body Board Chairs in Scotland and developing the potential of current appointees to apply for future Chair roles. The pilot aimed to draw mentees from groups currently under-represented at Chair level: women, disabled people, people from an ethnic minority background, young people, and people whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or other ['LGBO']).
Following a report on that pilot, a new iteration of the Board Chair Mentoring Project was launched in August 2019. This again aimed to develop the pipeline of Board Chairs from current appointees from the same groups under-represented at Chair level, taking on board recommendations from the pilot.
The project sought to broaden the skills, experience and knowledge of both mentors and mentees. The project aimed to ensure that mentees would have a better understanding of what it means to be an effective Board Chair, along with the key chairing skills identified at the start of the project that they wished to develop. This was to ensure that mentees would be better placed to apply for Chair roles.
The project ran from August 2019 to November 2020, during which 12 mentors from the Chair cohort mentored 12 people from the Board members cohort from across the public bodies sector. The public bodies involved can be found at Annex A.
During this timeframe, which included a period of around 5 to 6 months with very little regulated public appointment recruitment activity because of the Covid pandemic, none of the mentees have applied for public body Chair posts. However, a couple of the mentees have reported in recent months they have 'stepped up' in taking on more responsibility, including taking on chairing roles of sub committees, which is a direct consequence of taking part in the scheme. Some of the mentees have stated that it is their intention to apply for a Board Chair role when a suitable vacancy arises.
The demographic profile of mentees (numbers suppressed for confidentiality) highlights that there was good representation from groups with protected characteristics who are otherwise currently under-represented as Chairs on the Boards of Scotland's public bodies. This was seen to be a real strength of the scheme and should continue to be an emphasis for any future iterations.
The next mentoring project should ensure that:
1. Board Chairs should continue to be asked to nominate members from groups with protected characteristics currently under-represented at Chair level.
2. Board Chairs and mentors should continue to be drawn from a wide spectrum of public bodies, backgrounds and levels of experience.
3. Use the lessons learnt from this iteration to amend and update the mentoring manuals and supporting materials for the scheme.
4. The formal workshops should continue alongside informal activity such as virtual coffee catch ups.
5. All mentoring participants are provided with details of how to access the bespoke online learning platforms that the Scottish Government's Public Bodies Unit and NHS Education for Scotland have developed for board members, especially in areas such as governance and succession planning.
6. Participants should have access to training on working with Ministers and media training. Women were particularly keen to have access to this training. Where at all possible, this should be integrated with, or run jointly with, the training offered by the Public Bodies Unit and/or NHS Education for Scotland (see also recommendation 5).
7. Resource costs for iterations of the mentoring project for future Chairs must continue to be balanced against other demands on Board Chairs and project administrators, and on other priorities for improving the diversity of public appointees.