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.

3 Methodology


3.1 The primary approach developed to meet the research aims was the application of a concise, systematic and relevant literature review of key issues on overcoming barriers to representation and participation on public, corporate and third sector boards of those in equality groups. The review focussed on female participation and representation on boards.

3.2 The review avoided duplication or repetition of previous work in this field and sought to provide an original approach with a Scottish dimension whilst recognising the value of learning from the experience of other countries.

3.3 Where relevant examples of good practice in overcoming barriers to equality and diversity have been identified, these are highlighted within the text.

3.4 The literature sources used in the review included: policy documents; academic publications; work commissioned by public bodies; grey literature; publicly accessible databases on organisations in the third and private sectors including the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and Financial Analysis Made Easy (FAME). Public bodies that have published material on equalities and diversity issues were targeted for relevant materials including: The Office of the Commissioners for Public Appointments in Scotland; Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, Scottish Government research, Equality and Human Rights Commission and Audit Scotland.

3.5 A weighting system was used to ensure that the literature used in the report was credible and reliable. Research publications that had a high sample size, or were influential received a higher weighting. The established 'Journal Impact Factor' scoring system was used when considering the importance of each academic paper to the collation of evidence. A wide range of information sources were used including: ABI/INFORM Global, Expanded academic ASAP, Ingenta Connect, Sage, ScienceDirect (Elsevier) and journal publishers. Sector specific sources of information were also used including the register of Third Sector organisations (OSCR).

3.6 Each piece of identified literature was systematically appraised. An indication of the analytical framework adopted is outlined below:

  • Bibliographic Details - to include basic information such as year of publication, title, area, report availability, author and sponsoring organisation;
  • Research Aims - a summary of the key research aims and questions;
  • Approach and Methodology - summary of the approach, methodology and research tools;
  • Key Findings - summary of the key findings from the research and relevance to the research topic;
  • Assessment of Quality - as well as an initial quality scan undertaken during the literature search, a more formal appraisal of the quality of research was undertaken as part of the assessment;
  • Evidence of Effective Solutions - any evidence relating to successful 'solutions' to key problems will be identified.


3.7 Despite the application of a systematic review of relevant literature sources, there are several limitations with the sources used. It is clear that in recent years there has been a significant push to improve gender equality on boards either through voluntary or statutory means. However some of the literature in this area is emerging and can, in some cases, lack the robustness associated with more established and mature social policy areas. Some of the limitations of the sources used are highlighted below:

  • Where policy or academic material focuses on specific initiatives to improve gender equality on boards, these are often in specific contexts. Repetition or replication of these approaches in different sectors or settings has often not taken place. Where initiatives take place in the private sector, their suitability for the public sector has not been tested.
  • There is limited data on overcoming barriers to female boardroom participation in the third sector. High profile reports have focussed on methods to address gender equalities in the private sector with limited attention to the issue of equality in the third sector. We have been unable to identify a comprehensive analysis or data set of female representation on the boards of Scottish charities.
  • Most of the initiatives described within the literature are focussed on improving gender equality at board level. There is considerably less evidence of initiatives to support other under-represented groups.
  • A wide range of initiatives to overcome barriers to boardroom engagement for women are described however there is insufficient comparative data to suggest which approaches are the most effective. For example, training programmes to prepare women for a board role have been applied in Europe, however it is unclear if these have been more effective at improving gender equality than other approaches.
  • Initiatives to improve gender diversity in the boardroom are occasionally described without sufficient attention to the impact of wider social, economic and political factors that may also have impacted on the success or otherwise of initiatives. For example in the case of Norway, a political consensus was seen to be an important element to the successful implementation of statutory gender quotas. How studies grapple with these exogenous factors may be an important consideration when seeking to understand the impact of each initiative.
  • More consideration needs to be given to measuring the impact and outcomes of the initiatives described. Do the initiatives described create sustainable, long-term change in the representation of women on boards? Much of the policy and academic literature on this area is relatively recent and longitudinal studies measuring long-term outcomes are absent.


Email: Jacqueline Rae

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