Increasing representation of women on private sector boards in Scotland

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

Case Study C


The company is a legal and estate agency with 41 employees based at one location in Scotland. The majority of the workforce (71%) is female although the majority of the senior management is male (71%). There are 7 board members, 2 of whom are female. Three of the board are executive directors and the remainder are non- executive directors.

The company sees offering employees equal opportunities as very important. It is at the centre of the company: it is 'the right thing to do to look after all staff and we can't have people treated unequally'. They have a good track record in recruiting women and people with other protected characteristics to the extent that they feel they do not really consider these issues when recruiting as they are confident their processes are fair and offer people equal opportunities to allow them to be appointed based on their skills and abilities.

As the legal structure of the company is an 'ordinary' partnership, progression to the board is open to all employees if they have the ability and it is up to the individual to take advantage of the opportunities the company offers. However, they recognise having a more gender balanced board could bring some benefits. 'Females can bring different qualities' as a result of their femininity and this could make the board more balanced in terms of the way that they look at issues. This is important as they want to have people with different skill sets and qualities on their board as this can 'alter the dynamics of the firm in a good way'. The downsides around trying to achieve gender balance are that it if it becomes a tick box approach then there is a danger the right talent is not recruited. For this reason they would not appoint people just to achieve gender parity. It would be more important to appoint the right person for the role as this is seen as more critical to the success of the business.

The company believes that it is the responsibility of firms to decide about the diversity and gender balance of their boards and that this should not be imposed externally.

Challenges arund Achieving Gender Balance on the Board

Within the company there are no barriers to progression onto the board for females as long as they have the right skills and attitudes to attain a board position. If they have these skills and abilities they will be supported along a pathway to becoming a partner. However, the company has found it difficult to find females who are willing to take advantage of these opportunities. In their experience some female employees can have different priorities and this usually involves greater, commitment to family life which can interfere with the full time commitment to the firm needed to become a board member, which has always been expected of potential board members in the company. There is a 'reasonable expectation that as a female employed here that you have to have commitment to the firm and can't [take time off work or work part-time to] bring up children as you like - but this applies to everyone that wants to go on to the board'. The main challenge for the firm in terms of increasing female board members is the small number of women within the company who are willing to make this commitment.

Company Policies and Practices

The company has a number of policies and practices which support equal opportunities for all employees, including an equalities and diversity policy which covers workforce as a whole and the board.

Promoting Equality and Diversity

The company has an 'equality in the workplace' policy to help it eliminate discrimination and encourage diversity among the workforce.

Promoting Equality and Diversity and Increasing Gender Parity on the Board

The company hopes that supporting more women on their internal pathway to becoming a partner could improve the gender balance. The internal pathway involves people being mentored by senior partners as they develop their skills and experience. Recent recruits have been female and there is an expectation they will progress towards board membership provided they are able to work the hours that are required of board members. Males and females follow the same pathways. Interviewees on the pathway felt there were no barriers to gaining a board position should they want to achieve this: 'the firm gives everyone a chance'. All people taken on by the firm have potential to contribute to the firm and gain a board position in the longer term. There is investment in training and support 'to help grow the skill set they are looking for'. All recruits with aspirations to move onto the board are aware that being on the board 'is more than a full time job'.

Although developing the internal pipeline is still an important way (and indeed preferred) of recruiting new board members they are now also looking to recruit people externally if they need particular skills. The main driver for recruiting new board members is a gap in the skills they need at board level and perhaps broader skills that would be useful for the board in addition to legal expertise such as communication and leadership and management. They will use their networks to find people who would be interested in investing in the firm and joining the board. These members would also need to have a law degree as this is a requirement for legal firms in Scotland. This recruitment process will focus on the skills they need rather than looking for any particular personal characteristics.

Interventions and Supports

They have not used any external supports to help improve broader diversity or gender balance on their board.

Key Points

1. This company sees offering emplyees equal opprtunities as very important to be fair to all emplyees.

2. They believe there are no barriers to women becoming a member of their board provided they have the skills and qualities required and they are the right person for the role. However, they have found it difficult to find females who aspire to a board role.

3. The company has a number of policies and practices which support equal opportunities for all employees.

4. While they have no specific policies to address gender balance at the board level they support female employees on an internal talent pathway to help them progress to the board, provided they are able to make the commitment to the firm needed to be a board member.


Email: Jacqueline Rae

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