Gender Representation on Public Boards: Report 2021

First progress report to Scottish Parliament (December 2021) on public boards’ progress towards the “gender representation objective”, achieved when a board has 50% of its non-executive members who are women. The report discusses appointments, encouraging applications from women, and terminology.


Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government

The fight to achieve equal representation of women has taken place over centuries, with the most notable battle being over the right to equal suffrage. It seems unthinkable now that women were once denied the right to vote. But there is a still a long way to go to achieve a truly gender equal society, in which women have an equal share in decision-making power.

I am therefore pleased to present the Scottish Government's first progress report to the Scottish Parliament on the operation of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018, which came into force in May 2020.

This legislation, the only such legislation in any of the nations in the United Kingdom, is intended to ensure that women have a voice in the boardrooms of Scotland's public bodies, colleges and universities, and that their representation is fair.

Women make up over 50% of Scotland's population, but historically have been under-represented in public life, and in senior and decision making positions, including in the boardroom.

The 2018 Act seeks to address this under-representation by setting a gender representation objective for public boards in Scotland, namely that 50% of Non-Executive members are women; and it requires certain steps to be taken to achieve the objective, initially by 31 December 2022, and to encourage applications from women.

I am also pleased to note that the majority of listed public authorities subject to the 2018 Act (65%) have achieved the gender representation objective at the time of reporting.

Although this report represents the bench mark year for data on the 2018 Act, I want to also recognise the excellent progress that has been made over the last 7-8 years. In 2013-14 when my government began its concerted programme of work on addressing the lack of women's representation on public boards, the percentage of women Non-Executive board members of Regulated boards was 36%, at 31 December 2014. This has increased to an overall figure of 52% in 2020-21, as of 30 April 2021.

I am also encouraged by the range of proactive steps taken to support women to apply for board positions. We want the very best people to sit on Scotland's public boards. And that means ensuring that public bodies, colleges and universities are reaching out to and attracting people who have valuable skills and talents but who have not previously had equal opportunities to participate, including women of all ages and backgrounds.

Although Scotland's public boards have made significant progress in redressing the historical imbalance of women's representation, we can see from the data included in this report that they still have some distance to travel before every board achieves the gender representation objective. Over a third of the boards for which we have data have not yet met this objective. The Scottish Government urges boards to do all they can to make further significant process over the next year as we move towards the 2022 milestone for initially achieving gender balance on Scotland's public boards.

The journey towards equal sharing of power is a long one. This report represents an important juncture. But there is a lot further to travel. I commend Boards for the progress made thus far; and urge them to continue with their efforts to improve women's representation, because Boards which better reflect the population of Scotland are better able to serve the people of Scotland, benefiting us all.



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