Overcoming Barriers to Equality and Diversity Representation on Public, Private and Third Sector Boards in Scotland

The Employment Research Institute was commissioned by the Scottish Government to identify how barriers to equality and diversity representation at board level in public, private and third sector organisations could be overcome, particularly for women. The report outlines the findings.

2 Project Aims and Rationale

Project Aims

2.1 The purpose of the project is to identify how barriers to participation on public, private and third sectors boards in Scotland can be overcome for equalities groups.

2.2 The research is guided by three research questions:

  • How have barriers to equality and diversity representation on boards been overcome? For example, what programmes / practices are being undertaken by organisations / companies to achieve representation on their boards?
  • What can be learned from programmes / practices to support equality and diversity representation on boards?
  • Are there potential benefits and costs of actions to organisations and society of equality and diversity representation on boards (and in employment more broadly)?

2.3 The work focuses primarily on identifying good practice in overcoming gender equality and diversity issues.


2.4 The purpose of equalities legislation is to empower public officials to act against discrimination, harassment and victimisation of people because of their equality characteristics. More broadly, equalities can ensure good relations in the management of organisations and ensure that they meet the diverse needs of their users. A workforce that has a supportive working environment is more likely to be productive. The Scottish Government recognises that in a competitive labour market, discrimination or the under-representation of specific groups will inhibit the Government's ability to attract and retain talent[3]. Compliance with equalities legislation is therefore not only about meeting legal obligations, but is also about ensuring that organisations can meet the diverse needs of its users and better represent the communities that they serve. A workforce that represents the demographic characteristics of the needs of its service users will more effectively meet the needs of those users, thereby improving public satisfaction.

2.5 The Equality and Human Rights Commission define equality as 'ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents, and believing that no one should have poorer life chances because of where, what or whom they were born, what they believe, or whether they have a disability'[4].

2.6 The Equality Act 2010 creates a duty for employers to: Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act; Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not; Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not[5].

2.7 The Act uses the term 'protected characteristics' to define groups that are subject to measures outlined under the Equality Act. Groups subject to protected characteristics are defined by:

  • Age: Where this is referred to, it refers to a person belonging to a particular age (e.g. 32 year olds) or range of ages (e.g. 18 - 30 year olds).
  • Disability: A person has a disability if s/he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
  • Gender reassignment: The process of transitioning from one gender to another.
  • Marriage and civil partnership: The Equality Act recognises marriage and civil partnerships as a protected characteristic. The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 extended the right of marriage to same sex couples.
  • Pregnancy and maternity: Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.
  • Race: Refers to the protected characteristic of race. It refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, and nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins.
  • Religion and belief: Religion has the meaning usually given to it but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (e.g. Atheism). Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.
  • Sex: A man or a woman.
  • Sexual orientation: Whether a person's sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes[6].

2.8 The process of appointing to boards needs to ensure that applicants from a wide range of backgrounds are inspired to apply for posts.

2.9 Whilst the primary focus of this research is on overcoming barriers to gender representation on boards of public, private and third sector organisations, where innovative and effective examples of overcoming barriers to representation of other equalities groups as defined under the Equality Act 2010 are identified, these will also be reported on.


Email: Jacqueline Rae

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