RECENT figures released by Jackie Baillie MSP, Labour’s equalities spokeswoman, reveal that women account for fewer than one-third of the board members on many of Scotland’s major public bodies.
Although women make up 52 per cent of the Scottish population and 49 per cent of the working-age population, only a few of our public institutions come anywhere close to reflecting this balance: the Scottish Prisons Service, Historic Scotland and Disclosure Scotland together average 47 per cent of women on their boards.
What is often overlooked in the debate around diversity is that having one or more women on the board is good for a company’s bottom line. For instance, Catalyst’s study of the Fortune 500 revealed that companies with the highest percentage of women on their boards outperformed those without by a 53 per cent higher return on equity.
Analysis by McKinsey of 2,360 global companies over six years showed that, across all sectors, those companies with one or more women on their boards significantly and consistently outperformed those with no female representation – by 41 per cent in terms of return on equity and by 56 per cent in terms of operating results. In my experience, women have a more significant impact when there are at least three on a board.
With this in mind, the Scottish Government’s summit on Women in Public Life, with its focus on getting more women not only into the boardroom but also into senior management, is a welcome initiative. However, there is still a lot of work to be done around how women perceive boards and how gender diversity is perceived in general. Working on Institute of Directors Scotland (IoD) programmes to encourage more women on to boards, I have found that there are perception issues. The boardroom dynamic is not for everyone and some women prefer to contribute to corporate life in other ways. However, for women keen to seize these opportunities, given the amount of information, courses and mentoring schemes available, now is the time to put themselves forward.
• Caroline Donaldson is director of Kynesis Coaching and runs the Women on Board initiatives for IoD Scotland. The Scottish Government’s Women in Public Life summit takes place in Edinburgh today