Increasing representation of women on private sector boards in Scotland

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

Appendix 1: Research Methods


This study has involved four research methods:

  • Reviewing the evidence base to identify key research themes and gaps.
  • Collecting the views of key stakeholders.
  • Gathering information on the experiences and views of private sector companies through an e-survey.
  • Undertaking in-depth case studies with a small number of private sector companies.

Reviewing the Evidence Base to Identify Key Research Themes and Gaps

A number of studies have already been undertaken at the UK and Scottish levels that have examined the representation of women on boards, and Dutton and Raeside (2014) have undertaken a desk-based review of this evidence on behalf of the Scottish Government. This study built on the Dutton and Raeside review by collating and analysing primary research on the experiences of Scottish private sector companies focusing on:

  • Key barriers and enablers of board diversity.
  • Approaches and interventions to improving board diversity.
  • Gaps in the research base.

The objective here was not to repeat the earlier desk-based reviews but to provide a solid basis for the research design - ensuring that the research builds on the existing evidence base and addresses the current gaps in the evidence.

Collecting the Views of Key Stakeholders

Whilst the primary focus of the research has been be on gathering the views and experiences of Scottish companies, we have also sought to capture the views of a small number of wider stakeholders that have perspectives on the barriers and enablers to board diversity and the approaches and interventions that are effective in tackling a lack of diversity at the board level. Interviews have been undertaken with representatives from Scottish Government, the main business and skills development agencies (Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland), key business representative rganisatins representative organisations (including Confederation of British Industry CBI), Institute of Directors ( ID) and Scottish Council for Development and Industry ( SCDI)), Investors in People, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and a range of organisatins and individuals with a particular interest in improving the gender balance or broader diversity of the workforce and/or private sector boards (such as Close the Gap, Women's Enterprise Scotland and Equate Scotland).

Gathering Infromation on the Experiences and Views of Private Sector Companies

As outlined in the introduction, there is limited evidence on the experiences and views of private sector companies outside of the FTSE 350 in relation to board diversity. To help address this gap, an e-survey of private sector boards was undertaken. This had two roles:

  • To provide insights into the composition of private sector boards [22] , the barriers and enablers to achieving greater diversity and the policies and procedures being adopted to help improve board diversity.
  • Gathering information to help us select the potential case study companies.

To try to reach as many companies as possible, a number of different methods were used to circulate the e-survey:

  • Private sector companies with a Registered Office in Scotland were identified through the database Financial Analysis Made Easy ( FAME).Where an email address was listed for these companies on FAME, they were emailed to alert them to the esurvey and to encourage them to take part.
  • Scottish Government emailed the companies that had signed up to Partnership for Change or/and the Scottish Business Pledge to encourage them to take part.
  • A number of other stakeholders (including the CBI, Investors in People and Scottish Enterprise) helped raise awareness of the survey through newsletter articles, LinkedIn or Twitter.

55 companies with boards took part in the e-survey. These companies:

  • Were predominately headquartered in Scotland (82%), with 11% headquartered elsewhere in the UK and 6% headquartered in another country.
  • Represent a broad range of sectors. 63% were in one of the Scottish Government‟s key sectors (creative industries, energy, financial and business services, food and drink, life sciences and tourism).
  • Varied in terms of the size of their boards - from 2 to 30. However, the vast majority of boards had fewer than 10 members.
  • 77% of those that were able to provide details on the gender balance of their board had more male board members than female.
  • Rarely had board members from ethnic minority groups or LGBT communities. None of the companies had any board members that were disabled people or on pregnancy or maternity leave.

In most cases, the survey was completed by a senior member of company staff - typically Chief Executive, Managing Director or HR director/manager. Only in a small number of cases was it completed by a board member. The e-survey was carefully designed to ensure that it was clear the answers were being given on behalf of the company, rather than to reflect personal experiences.

Whilst the e-survey is an important addition to the evidence base, providing useful insights into the experiences and views of private sector companies around the issue of board diversity, it is important to stress that it should not be considered representative of the Scottish business base as a whole.

Undertaking In-depth Case Studies with Private Sector Companies

To understand the factors that are supporting and inhibiting board diversity in more detail, a series of case studies with private sector companies were undertaken. These involved:

  • Interviewing key staff such as the Chief Executive, HR director and/or the staff member that is responsible for leading on equalities issues. These interviews helped develop in more detail our understanding of the:
  • Importance placed on equality and diversity within the company.
  • Policies and practices adopted by the company to promote equality and diversity, with a particular focus on the policies and practices adopted around board diversity.
  • Initiatives or approaches taken (if any) to encourage greater board diversity - and the impact these have had.In particular, good practice examples of initiatives that have led to an improvement in board diversity.
  • Views of the companies of how Scottish Government could help support greater board diversity and interest in the Partnership for Change Commitment.
  • Interviewing bard members.These individuals were able to give insights from two different angles:
  • As a board, how important is board diversity, what do they consider to be the main barriers and enablers of board diversity and what actions have they taken to improve board diversity.
  • As individuals, what has supported or inhibited their board membership.
  • Where suitable individuals where available, interviewing a small number of senior managers within each company that are not currently board directors about what would support them to consider applying for board positions either internally (as executive directors) or externally (as non-executive board members).

As each company is different, the numbers and range of individuals interviewed varied considerably across companies. Where case study examples are used throughout the report we have aimed to ensure that it is clear whether a perspective is that of the company or individual.

The case studies were selected to reflect a range of different experiences including:

  • Different industrial sectors.
  • Geographic spread across Scotland.
  • Both companies that had achieved - or were close to achieving - gender parity and those that had more limited female representation on their boards.
  • Both companies that were actively seeking to improve the gender balance and broader diversity of their board and those that were not.

In total case studies were undertaken with 10 private sector companies. The case studies:

  • Were primarily SMEs (i.e. had 249 r less emplyees) - althugh tw were very large firms (with 3,000 and 33,000 emplyees respectively internatinally).
  • Represented a range f different sectrs including financial services, waste management, legal services, publishing, htels and catering, recruitment and fd manufacturing.
  • Varied in terms f the representatin f wmen n their bards - frm just 9% (ne bard member ut f 11) t 50%.

Again, it is important to stress that whilst the case studies provide us with a unique insight into the experiences and views of private sector companies they should not be considered representative of the Scottish business base as a whole.

The full case studies are provided in Appendix 2, with selected extracts given throughout the report as boxed examples.


Email: Jacqueline Rae

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