Mark Bevan: Step up to be counted

Mark Bevan, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry
Mark Bevan, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry

Scotland is working incredibly hard to move beyond a period of slow and low growth and to do so in a way which deliberately couples our aspirations for society with our economic opportunities.

A central theme in this contemporary discourse is that of “inclusive growth”.

While resisting being pigeon-holed by an absolute definition, the term does readily convey a sense that our economy should deliver for everyone.

Implicit is an absolute acceptance of profit as good and, at the same time, a degree of regulatory control to prevent the excesses of a free market economy.

This new paradigm creates opportunities for new voices, new decision-makers.

“Nothing about us without us” was a common cry in the disability rights movement in the 1990s. It meant that if you want to know what works for us then put us in the position of influencing the decisions which affect us.

The approach brought a whole new set of talent to the workforce and opened a new economy.

In the 2000s there was a growing recognition that women were significantly under-represented in leadership positions.

One hundred years on from the suffrage movement’s success, how are we measuring up to increasing equality?

In the decade from 2007 to 2017, the number of women taking roles on boards in FTSE 100 companies more than doubled, from 11 per cent to 27 per cent, according to Cranfield School of Management. It’s a significant increase when taken at face value but the statistics also mask a deeper picture.

Looking more closely, we see that women holding senior directorships, such as chairman (and clearly terminology does matter) and independent adviser, grew from just 6 per cent to 8 per cent.

The study concluded that much of the board member growth was created to fill quotas and many posts filled by women were part-time.

In the decade to 2016, Beyond Analysis reports in a survey of 151 businesses that just 7.5 per cent of chief executive vacancies went to women.

Perhaps more telling, in 2016, Sir Philip Hampton’s review of women on boards reported that the number of women winning new appointments on boards had fallen to a five-year low, with only one in four vacancies being filled by women.

So, on this aspect of diversity and equality, we haven’t moved as far as we might have thought, and it matters.

For those not convinced of the arguments from a rights and equalities perspective, there is now hard evidence from a commercial perspective.

In a McKinsey study published this year, businesses in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15 per cent more likely to experience higher than their industry average profitability.

Those with greater gender diversity on executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to outperform their fourth quartile industry peers on earnings before interest and tax.

In the forebear of this study, in the UK cohort, for every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity there was a 3.5 per cent increase in earnings before interest and tax.

A country facing significant skills shortages cannot afford to waste the talents of women, younger people or those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

We need all our talent to step up and we need all our businesses to open the door and welcome them in.

For 46 years SCDI has convened Scotland’s business and civic leaders at its annual forum. On 3 and 4 May we will bring together the private, public and social economy sectors.

Titled Scotland’s Economic Future, A Brighter 2030, the forum is a platform for convening debate and dialogue that will help to set a vision and principles for Scotland’s economic strategy to 2030.

We will argue that if Scotland is serious about escaping low and slow growth, diversity of gender, geography, ethnicity, age, sector, social status and thought must be a part of the solution and at the centre of Scotland’s economic strategy.

I’m proud that SCDI can play a central role in bringing all these diverse voices together. The door is open, will you step inside and be counted?

Mark Bevan is chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry

This article appears in the Spring 2018 edition of Vision Scotland. Further information about Vision Scotland here.