Increasing representation of women on private sector boards in Scotland

Report addressing barriers of equality and diversity in Scotland's private sector.

Case Study B


The company is in the energy sector and provides industrial suction services (waste management) for landfill/renewable, farming, industrial and food and drink sectors. The company‟s head office is in Scotland but operates across the UK with two other sites in England. There are 15 employees. The majority of the workforce are male (60%) and there is a 50:50 gender split in the senior management team. There are two individuals on the board one of whom is female.

Equality and diversity are very important to the company. The owner is female and wants to lead by example. She also believes that gender balance on the board increases the performance of the company, people with different genders 'have different things to bring to the table'. Gender balance can enhance team working and provide a better approach to problem solving as each gender generally looks at problems in a different way. It can improve the board‟s performance because it allows a balanced perspective on the issues/problems to be solved improving the quality of corporate governance and understanding of customer needs. It also has a positive impact on turnover and productivity. Having gender balance also improves the perception of the company held by potential recruits, staff, clients and other potential board members.

The company believes that firms themselves have the main responsibility for improving the gender balance and broader diversity of private sector boards. Directors should be raising this agenda. However, schools and others have a role in developing the pipeline so that more women move towards boards. This includes increasing the engagement of women in certain career areas where there are fewer women, such as STEM and also encouraging women to aim higher for managerial positions and boards. They feel there is a disconnect between schools and commercial world and that school staff do not have a good understanding of the opportunities that there are for women in business and particularly SMEs.

Challenges around Achieving Gender Balance on the Board

If the company grows and they increase the size of their board they will aim to maintain gender parity to achieve this balanced perspective. They are very committed to achieving this and believe there are no barriers as they have put a number of policies and practices in place to ensure this happens.

Company Policies and Practices

The company has a number of policies and practices that are relevant to promoting equality and diversity and gender balance including the following.

Promoting Equality and Diversity

They have an equalities and diversity policy which covers the workforce, management and the board and states it is the policy of the company 'to treat all employees and job applicants fairly and equally regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, marital status, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion, age, disability or union membership status'. They are also an Investors in People ( IiP) employer and believe this helps get the best out of people across all protected characteristics. They have also signed up to the Business Pledge and display messages from this campaign throughout the premises. This lets employees know that they are committed to achieving gender balance and broader diversity. Informal approaches are also important. An example of this is taking careful note of the language they use for example, not using 'girls in the office' and 'boys in the workshop' as this can perpetuate ideas that these roles are defined by gender. They feel that signing up has helped them to think about the issues and consider gender balance whenever making appointments.

Changing the gender profile of the business leading to more females in senior management roles: Practices have been introduced to encourage males and females to apply for all positions in the company. They have tried to improve the gender balance in the ones which are traditionally male (driving/operatives) and female (office). However, although they encourage this at the recruitment stage it is still important that they "get the right person for the job‟. One practice that they have tried is making CVs anonymous to ensure they focus on the content of the CV and no other factors. Despite this they have had few women apply for driving positions or men for office positions.

Introduction of flexible working: They have a number of practices in place to support work-life balance. This applies to the entire workforce, but particularly helps female employees who tend to have responsibility for childcare.

Promoting Equality and Diversity and Increasing Gender Parity on the Board

Training for senior managers to prepare them for taking on board roles. They have not recruited for new board members in the last 5 years but as they grow they would like to expand their board and so are looking at how to recruit new members. All of the employees know that gender balance is important to the company and it is part of their values as well - if they did not share these values they would not be in a senior management position or board member as these issues are discussed on a regular basis within the company. The company invests in training to develop managers‟ skills and particularly soft skills and to increase their confidence. For example they have recently booked their workshop supervisor on management courses and he has had some one-to-one coaching. These kinds of practices help them to retain talent.

A manager involved in the pipeline activity indicated that these initiatives are offering opportunities to develop her skills, particularly leadership and management. Additionally one to one mentoring with the MD has boosted her confidence and helped her to see that she has potential to be promoted. The family friendly policies have helped her increase her productivity at work. She felt her skills and abilities were recognised by senior management. A number of aspects were important in this including salary, offering her flexible working, offering training, recognising her work and making her feel appreciated, internal promotion and giving her positions of responsibility. The MD mentored her, being open about wanting to support her development and wanting her to be retained in the company. All of this had been very helpful and helped her to increase her knowledge of the business, confidence and experience.

Although the manager was not considering a board position at the moment she perceived there were no barriers to becoming a board member as the Managing Director is female. This shows it is natural for women to be on boards. The MD also provided an excellent role model. However, as a small company vacancies for board positions do not arise regularly.

Setting Targets for Gender Parity in the Board: They have signed up to the business pledge so are aspiring to 50:50 but have not formalised targets. They think of gender balance whenever making appointments although would still look for the right person for the job, whilst recognising 50:50 helps maintain focus. In terms of workforce, due to the nature of the jobs they tend to get more female applicants for office roles and males for drivers/operatives. They do not monitor formally, but keep an eye on this. With a small board (husband and wife owners) it is easier to maintain gender balance. They have no targets for representation of other protected characteristics.

Key Points

1. Achieving gender parity is viewed as very important to this company bringing a range of business benefits including better understanding of customer needs and improved performance.

2. There is strong leadership within the company and commitment to achieve gender parity.

3. The company has gender parity in the board at the moment and will aim to maintain this if the board grows.

4. The company has provided a number of supports to achieving gender parity including training for managers, aiming to balance the gender profile of the business and training and mentoring for managers to prepare them for taking on board roles.


Email: Jacqueline Rae

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