COMPANIES will be forced to give 40 per cent of their most senior jobs to women as part of the SNP’s plans for independence – but the move has been branded as “ludicrous” and “ridiculous” by business leaders and opposition politicians.
Under the Deputy First Minister’s plans, large public and private organisations would be compelled by law to introduce a quota for the number of female directors.
Nicola Sturgeon said an SNP government in an independent Scotland would bring in laws to force big firms to keep 40 per cent of their top jobs for women.
Norway has a law requiring at least 40 per cent of public limited company board members to be women. The Government has already attempted to ensure that 40 per cent of public board appointments are reserved for women.
However, Ms Sturgeon said the move could be extended to private firms to boost female representation on private company boards as well.
She said: “We are still underrepresented in the governance of companies and public authorities.
“A stronger voice for women at the top table will help ensure that the policies that flow from these boards challenge inequality rather than perpetuate it.
“So, with responsibility for equalities, we could take action, backed by legislation if necessary, to ensure that a clear target – I would argue at least 40 per cent – of places on boards were occupied by women.”
She said there were “deep-seated” gender inequalities that still hold women back and she insisted that Westminster governments had failed to do enough to tackle the problems.
Official government figures show that 17.3 per cent of directors of FTSE-100 listed company last year were female, a figure which has grown steadily from 12.5 per cent in 2010-11 and 6.2 per cent in 1999-2000.
However, the plan for quotas was attacked as “ludicrous” by Tory MSP Margaret Mitchell yesterday, with Scottish business leaders, including Michelle Mone, also expressing concern about the move.
Mrs Mitchell said: “I appreciate the intent behind it, but it’s a ludicrous idea to try to force businesses to take people on on that basis. There are other much more effective ways of improving equal opportunities without interfering in this way.”
Ms Mone, who built an underwear empire from her Glasgow office, branded the proposal “ridiculous” saying she would challenge “it all the way to the European courts” if Scotland voted for independence.
She said: “I think the SNP is proposing this because it thinks it will attract female voters – but it is wrong. It’s more likely to turn them away”.
David Watt, executive director of the Institute of Directors Scotland, also criticised the move, which he said “smacks of totalitarianism”.
He said: “While the target of 40 per cent may be in the right region, to pick an arbitrary number is not necessarily accurate because you have to ask, are 40 per cent of the senior applicants for these posts women?
“I am much more keen on building capacity and opportunity rather than setting an arbitrary target and I certainly don’t want legal compulsion.
“It may force boards to take on more women, and I have never spoken to a woman in business who thinks this is necessary. It smacks of totalitarianism.”
Iain McMillan, chief executive of CBI Scotland, said: “We do want to see more women on boards and have been campaigning for that for some time. But to legislate on that is not wise.
“The women on boards who I’ve spoken to are not in favour of legislation which is positive discrimination.”