Increasing representation of women on private sector boards in Scotland

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

Case Study G


This case study is an international recruitment company specialising in executive recruitment and professional services. There are 75 employees. The board has six individuals, two of whom are female. There is no information about how many of these are executive directors and non-executive directors.

The issue of achieving gender balance and broader diversity is important, but the main concern is that the company recruits the right individual for the job in terms of their skills and performance which is more important than their gender. There have been no differences between men and women on their board in terms of the ways that they fulfilled their roles.

The company believes it is the responsibility of boards to seek to improve gender balance and ensure both genders have an equal opportunity to become board members.

Challenges around Achieving Gender Balance on the Board

Within the company there are no gender barriers to being recruited onto the board as long as the candidate has the experience and skills the board is looking for. Although the recruitment sector workforce is predominately female, very few women progress to board level so the company is not generally typical of the sector as the owner is female and there is one other female board member. The lack of women progressing to senior management in the sector can make it difficult to find females with the experience and skills they need at board level. In the last 5 years they have recruited new board members, but they had no female candidates and they could not find a female with the skills and capabilities they were looking for despite proactively looking for one.

Company Policies and Practices

The company has a number of policies or practices to increase equality and diversity including the following.

Promoting Equality and Diversity

The company has a range of policies and practices to promote equality including an equality and diversity policy which covers the workforce, senior management and the board.

Developing the Talent Pipeline: The pipeline activity supports male and female employees equally. An important part of this is a mentoring programme that has been established recently. This is focused on employees at divisional management level to help them develop their skills. Employees have mentoring meetings with the managing director to discuss operational issues every 6 weeks. The aim is to help these managers see their role differently and to see how they could improve their performance. Although the company recognises not all of the mentored employees will progress to director level, they have had good results from this programme, with the staff involved taking more ownership of their work, improving their decision making and having a clearer idea of their role. This kind of mentoring support is considered quite unique for the recruitment sector.

An interviewee taking part in the mentoring felt it provided a great opportunity to work with the managing director who is well regarded in the industry. The mentoring has had a number of positive impacts on the employee, as she felt more confident about her abilities and was more aware that she might have the ability to progress further in her career. In this way it has been inspiring and motivating. It has helped her to recognise her strengths and weaknesses and how to improve her performance. She has taken on more responsibility and feels she is more able to plan her work in a more strategic way. The critical factors in the success of the mentoring have been that she feels the mentor has taken time to develop an understanding of the ways that she works and to tailor the mentoring so that it can develop her strengths.

This kind of mentoring may help more females to think about progressing to board level. For example, this interviewee was at an early stage in her career, and although she was not thinking about board membership she did think that it was something that she might potentially consider 'further down the line'. She felt that the main obstacles to achieving this included how she might be able to balance the demanding role of a board member with family life. Additionally, lack of experience and working in an industry which is fairly male dominated at management level could act as barriers. The interviewee also had a sense that despite some progress boards continue to be male dominated and would prefer to recruit other males although she pointed out 'this is my perception, it might not be reality'.

Board meetings: They aim to make board meetings work well for all genders. The activities and events the board undertakes are open to all. There are good working relationships across the members: 'we don't see the personal characteristics just the skills and capabilities'.

Processes for recruiting new board members: In the past the main method of recruitment of board members was through senior managements' and other board members' networks and there was no formal interview process. For example the female board member was an employee and was earmarked for the board because she had the skills and capabilities that the company was looking for and a good understanding of what the role would require. She got a lot of support from the other board members during the recruitment process and during her initial period on the board. This would still be an important method for recruitment and there would be no barriers to women being recruited through these methods. In addition they have recently appointed an external talent manager to find new board members as they want to enhance the capabilities of their board. The main skills and experience they are looking for are knowledge of the market place and a good track record in terms of generating revenue.

Interventions and Supports

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

Key Points

1. Achieving gender parity at board level is seen as important in this company within a broader framework that encourages equality and diversity at all levels of the company, but it is not an issue that is given a great deal of attention.

2. Ensuring that the company recruits the right individual for the job in terms of their skills and performance is more important than their personal characteristics. Therefore, within the company there are no gender barriers to being recruited onto the board as long as the candidate has the experience and skills the board is looking for.

3. Within the company‟s sector there are some difficulties finding women with the experience and skills they need at board level.

4. Although the company has no specific policies and practices to achieve gender balance at board level they have some policies and procedures which support the progression of people with a range of personal characteristics including developing their internal talent pipeline through mentoring.


Email: Jacqueline Rae

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