Increasing representation of women on private sector boards in Scotland

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

Case Study E


The company has 3 hotels in Scotland. There are 190 employees. Around 60% of the workforce is female and 40% male, however 85% of the senior management team is male. The company's board has three members, the husband and wife who own the business and a director who is also an employee.

It is unlikely that the board will increase substantially in the future or change in terms of gender balance as it is a family owned firm and so achieving gender balance at board level is not seen as an important issue within the company. However, it is important that all employees are treated equally and they have an Equal Opportunities Policy in place to ensure this happens. For example, the Equal Opportunities Policy states that the company is 'committed to a policy of treating all our employees and job applicants equally.' They do not support positive discrimination and would never make a promotion or recruitment decision based purely on gender or other characteristics; it is more important they find the right person for the job. The Equal Opportunities Policy states: 'we will appoint, train, develop and promote on the basis of merit and ability alone'. Within the company males and females work in a range of roles.

They believe it is the responsibility of boards to determine the diversity of their board. However in relation to gender, they felt there is a broader role for a range of stakeholders to raise women‟s aspirations to progress in their careers and join boards.

Challenges around Achieving Gender Balance on the Board

As there are only three people on the board it is always going to be imbalanced. At the moment there are more females, but they do not feel that any business benefits arise from this. The husband and wife asked the senior manager to join the board because she had specific business skills that were needed at board level, not because of her gender.

The main barrier to achieving gender balance or broader diversity on the board is the number of people on it and also the low turnover of board members. They have not recruited any new board members for 13 years and there are no plans to recruit any in the near future. However if they were, it is likely that candidates would be drawn from within the family who owns the business in the first instance and following that from outside of the company if they were particular skills such as financial skills that were needed on the board. The experience of one board member is useful to understand the recruitment process. The board member had been an employee for 13 years when she was asked to join the board and has now been a board member for 13 years. She was asked to join because she had specific skills which were needed on the board. She had proved her worth as an employee and made it clear to the other board members that she aspired to become a board member. Her skills as a board member have proved critical to the survival of the company. She was very motivated to 'see how far she could go' in her career as she was the main earner in her family.

She feels that being a board member can be stressful because there is a lot of responsibility and it can be challenging to keep on top of board and managerial responsibilities. Other challenges include being asked to make unpopular decisions. 'It is tough being on a board. You have to keep the company safe above all. You need to have a lot of self belief.' As a board member it can be hard to get support from inside of the company or externally. However she does not feel she needs support as she is confident and assertive. 'Women on boards need to be self sufficient'. She feels it is critical that more women increase their aspirations to become board members.

Company Policies and Practices

The company has no policies or practices focused on improving the gender balance of the board, but it does have policies and practices which ensure that people with all protected characteristics are able to progress in the company. These include the following.

Promting Equality and Diversity

Policies and practices in relation to equality and diversity: They have an equalities policy which covers all employees, senior management and the board. The scope of the policy covers recruitment, promotion, transfer and training and terms of employment. They take equalities seriously and feel that their approach is working as they have had no issues arising and all employees feel that they are being treated equally. They have a stable workforce. They have no targets for gender or other protected characteristics in the workforce, senior management or the board and so do not monitor or review the balance of gender or other protected characteristics.

Supporting females in senior management positions: The company has a very stable workforce, including managers. All young managers are treated equally regardless of gender. A young manager interviewed recognised that there are females in management teams who provided roles to aspire to and who could play a mentoring role to young managers however, this mentoring role is not formalised. At the moment she is at an early stage in her career, although she would like to progress to higher levels of management and saw opportunities for progression within the company. However she was unsure whether she wanted to become a board member at some point in the future. The main reason for this was that she enjoyed an operational role and she saw board members as being remote from this.

Another reason was that her perception of boardrooms was that they were 'rooms full of men'. She had not had any experience of meeting female board members. At university, at her events management course, all of the board member visitors to her course had been male, despite the fact that the majority of students on the course were female. As a result being on a board did not appeal to her as she felt they would be male dominated. A third reason was that she did not know about the process of recruitment to boards.

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 has a small board with low turnover. Achieving gender parity is not seen as important as it is not thought to bring any business benefits.

2. More broadly the company sees equality and diversity as very important and supports people with all protected characteristics to progress within the company by implementing equal opportunities.

3. The experience of the director and manager interviewed for the case study illustrates the challenges women can face progressing to boards and the continued perception that they can be male dominated.


Email: Jacqueline Rae

Back to top