Increasing representation of women on private sector boards in Scotland

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

Case Study D


The company provides publishing services for a range of clients mainly operating in academia. The main markets are the UK and other countries in the EU. There are 28 employees based at one location in Scotland. Three quarters of the workforce and senior management are female. The company‟s board has three members, two of whom are women. All of the directors are executive directors.

The directors believe that equality and diversity are important for the company as they are aware that companies need a range of skills to be successful and it is only by taking account of these issues that you can be sure that you are accessing these skills. Having people with diverse characteristics also helps to ensure that teams within the workplace are balanced. However, their priority when recruiting is getting someone with the skills they need rather than achieving gender balance or broader diversity. They would not practise positive discrimination and feel that background is irrelevant if people have the skills to do the job. Nevertheless, it is important that boards reflect the population and are broadly representative (in terms of age, race and gender), although the characteristics of the industry and the location of the business need to be taken into account.

The directors believe that achieving gender parity on boards is not an important issue for Scotland as the majority of companies in Scotland are small, and they tend to select the right people for the job regardless of gender or other characteristics. They believe that the responsibility for achieving gender parity should lie purely with private sector companies because these are owned by individuals, and that there should be no requirement for companies to achieve gender parity on boards. They believe legislation and quotas can lead to tokenism.

Challenges around Achieving Gender Balance on the Board

With a low and odd number of board members, the board has always been imbalanced one way or another. At the moment there are more women, but the directors do not feel that this has any particular impacts on the performance of the company, although it may have a positive impact on the perception of the company by potential recruits as the workforce in the sector and in the company (including senior management) is predominantly female. There is a very low turnover of board members. The company has added only one board member to the board in the last 5 years. The owners were looking for someone who was able to take an overview of the company and understand all of the areas that are important to the company, from production to HR. They wanted someone with strong business skills who understood the commercial aspects of the business and who was good at negotiating. They wanted to look inside the company because they like to bring people through to management. They selected one of their female project leaders. The candidate‟s skills and experience were more important in determining her selection than her gender.

Although it is likely that the board will remain small, new directors will be needed at some point. When recruitment is necessary, the management team will be looking for diverse experience and skills rather than particular characteristics. The owners believe that board members should bring different skills to the table and these are more important than gender.

Company Policies and Practices

The company has a number of policies and practices in place to ensure equal treatment of individuals with protected characteristics. Some of these may have an indirect impact on board representation in the longer term. These include the following.

Promoting Equality and Diversity

The company has an equalities policy in place, which applies to all employees, senior management and the board. The policy aims to 'ensure equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and community'. It covers recruitment, training and development, selection for promotion and in redundancy situations, home based and part-time working, disability and special needs and pay awards.

Introducing flexible working: Flexible working, including options to work part-time, to start and finish at different times of the day and to work from home, was introduced in the last 8 years to improve staff retention. It was introduced following exit interviews with employees who left because it was not available. Flexible working has been useful for the board member interviewed as she has family commitments.

Promoting Equality and Diversity and Increasing Gender Parity on the Board

Mentoring or peer support for senior managers to prepare them for taking on board roles: Given the importance of recruiting board members internally, the company has a training and development programme to develop its internal talent pipeline. This is available to all staff, not just women. All employees have an individual performance plan designed to support career advancement within the company. One board member has benefited from this. She was invited to join the board in 2014. Although she had no previous experience of sitting on a board she has been pleased to join the board and sees it as an important aspect of her role as it is part of securing the long-term future of the business. The company‟s commitment to training for managers has also been an important contribution to helping her fulfil her board role effectively, as she has been supported to undertake a Diploma in Management, which has increased her business skills. A senior manager interviewed also felt that there are no structural or institutional barriers to her becoming a board member because she is a woman. She also felt that the senior management in the company would support her if at any point in the future she expressed a desire to become a board member. She has been promoted since she joined the company and has gradually increased her role to include business planning, which would be a key skill for a board member.

Interventions and Supports

The company has drawn on external support in only a limited way. The manager interviewed participated in a local businesswomen‟s network and found this useful as a way of meeting professional women and provided an opportunity to talk about workplace issues. However, this had no impact on the gender balance across the workforces, senior management or board members, mainly because the support was informal.

Key Points

1. Achieving gender parity at board level is not seen as an important issue in this company, with the skills and experience people bring to the board seen as more important than their personal characteristics.

2. The board is small and has low turnover. There are no difficulties recruiting people with the skills and qualities they need as the company takes a proactive approach to developing its internal talent pipeline.

3. Given the importance of internal promotion as a mechanism for recruiting new board members the owners have taken steps to retain talent and provide training and support for people with potential to move into management.


Email: Jacqueline Rae

Back to top