FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the “time is right” to use targets to ensure more women make it into the boardroom in both the public and private sector.
Ms Sturgeon, the first female First Minister, said the “glacial progress in some areas of life” showed efforts to promote women on merit were not working.
After taking on the top job in Scottish politics last year, Ms Sturgeon has made sure that half of her cabinet team are female.
She has also challenged organisations in the public, private and voluntary sector to ensure 50% of their board members are female by 2020.
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The SNP used International Women’s Day to argue that promoting more women was good for both society and the economy.
In an article in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, Ms Sturgeon said: “I am a believer in meritocracy and I have no desire to over-promote those not up to the job.
“However given the at-times glacial progress in some areas of life, it is clear that the meritocracy is not working.
“That is why I believe the time is right to use targets to achieve gender balance on our public and private boards, and in other key areas of our national life.”
She said achieving greater gender equality in the workplace was “one of the most important ways in which we can increase economic growth” and added: “That’s why as part of wider efforts to reduce economic inequality, I set a challenge to all public, private and third-sector bodies to get a 50:50 gender split on boards by 2020.
“Yes, that’s a target, and some may call it a quota, but how can anyone criticise efforts that seek to ensure that our public bodies and businesses use all of the talent available to them? It’s good for society and, crucially, it’s good for the economy.”
But Tory MSP Liz Smith said there was no need to set targets for the number of women in senior positions, either in politics or in business.
In a piece for the Mail on Sunday, Ms Smith insisted: “It’s not necessary in politics and I don’t think it’s necessary elsewhere either.”
The Conservative MSP said she “fundamentally” disagreed with any suggestion that half of all representatives at Holyrood should be female.
“I believe any elected members, of whatever level of government, should be there on merit and not because of his or her gender, or indeed any other criteria such as race or social background,” she stated.
Ms Smith pointed out both the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives have female leaders - Ms Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson - while Scottish Labour has elected a female deputy leader Kezia Dugdale.
She added: “Exactly what evidence is there that Holyrood is failing to do its job properly in terms of representing the voters because we do not have 50:50 representation of men and women?
“If there was a satisfactory answer then maybe a case could be made for change, but I don’t believe that evidence exists.”