WORKING women in Scotland still face a glass ceiling in some of the country’s professions, MSPs were told yesterday.
The police, teaching and legal worlds still present barriers to reaching the top jobs, despite more and more women entering these professions.
Old-fashioned attitudes among middle managers have been blamed, along with the absence of flexible working arrangements to deal with childcare.
Many women do not want to be head-teachers because the workload makes a home life impossible, Holyrood’s equal opportunities heard yesterday.
Solicitor Joyce Cullen, of the Law Society of Scotland, said there has been an “incredible” rise in the number of women entering the profession in recent years, with women now making up 60 per cent of graduates coming into the law.
But many of the best-paid jobs, in areas such as commercial law, are male-dominated and even “the best” private practices only have about 30 per cent of partnership positions occupied by women.
There is a greater share of women working their way up through the legal ranks and “change over time” may prevail, she said, with women now accounting for 48 per cent of solicitors in Scotland.
In the police force, 30 per cent of officers are now women but the vast majority are at “lower levels”.
Only 9 per cent reach the highest level of assistant chief constable or above, while fewer than 15 per cent become chief superintendent, the next level down.
Chief Superintendent Angela Wilson, who chairs the Scottish Women’s Development Forum, which advises the police on gender issues, warned that women will simply “stagnate” if they fail to get on.
“They will find it difficult to pick up that experience and development, get promoted, and they’ll find it difficult to move into specialisms that require particular hours to be worked. Most of them will just leave – they’ll just leave the organisation and go off and do something else.”
Mary Matheson, a teacher in Aberdeen and vice-convener of the equality committee at teaching union EIS, said there are now problems in her area recruiting head teachers.
About 62 per cent of teachers in Scotland’s secondary schools are women – but only a third of Scotland’s head-teachers are women.
“Despite the fact that the workforce is female-dominated, the work demands of being a head-teacher mean we have schools sitting without head-teachers because people don’t want to take on the huge role,” Ms Matheson said.
“It’s the work-life balance, the family balance – people are saying I just can’t do that, so all of these things impact on women and the choices that they’re making.”
Asked whether it was a “flaw” in the position of head-teacher that puts off potential female applicants, Ms Matheson added: “I think it could well be that.”
Case study: ‘We must arrest inequality in police’
Angela Wilson was appointed head of CID at Tayside Police seven years ago, becoming the most senior female officer in the force.
She has since held the role of assistant chief constable and briefly deputy chief constable, on Tayside before the new national service was formed.
Currently a chief superintendent at Police Scotland, she was a founder of the Women’s Development Forum, which works for gender equality within the police.
She warns more must be done across the professions to address the absence of women in top roles.
“There is far too big a difference between those entering the profession and those reaching the very top,” she said.
This freezes out “role models” of the future and diminishes the strength of organisations because they are choosing staff from a reduced pool.