Angela Constance: Common sense demands gender equality

Why is it important that there should be more women in positions of leadership across the public and private sectors in Scotland?

Hillary Clinton at the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/Getty
Hillary Clinton at the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/Getty

Hillary Clinton famously summed up the first reason when she said “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights”, in her address to the UN 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

Indeed women’s rights are enshrined in international treaties such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Convention requires State Parties to take “all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country”.

Underpinning these rights is the argument that gender equality is a prerequisite for any nation that believes in the principles of equality and social justice and I believe Scotland is such a nation.

The next reason is powerful and cannot be ignored. We know that throughout history women have been leaders and decision makers, whether in their homes, with their families or in their communities. We also know that women make up 51 per cent of our population.

So economically speaking, empowering women across the world is probably the single simplest way to boost sustainable economic growth.

There is also compelling evidence that greater diversity at senior and boardroom levels leads to better performance. The International Monetary Fund recently looked at data from two million firms in 34 countries across Europe. They found strong evidence to suggest that companies with a higher proportion of women on the board were more profitable.

And a report by the Chartered Management Institute linked greater diversity at senior management levels to a more ethical and value-based culture and happier more engaged employees.

Diverse boards also have better quality conversations leading to better decision making. They are also more able to understand their customer base and the needs of their employees. This is even more important when delivering vital public services for Scotland’s communities.

So this leads me to my next question: what makes a good leader? The French-German philosopher Albert Schweitzer, said: “There are three ways to lead… by example… by example… by example.”

From my perspective, the importance of leading by example is doubly important in the context of the public sector because if we’re not doing the right things in the Scottish Government and in our public bodies, then how can we make a strong argument for anyone else?

This is why the Scottish Government will continue to reaffirm its commitment to equality for women and take steps to make that a reality through expanding childcare and early years provision, acting to address pregnancy and maternity discrimination and a range of measures to strengthen the law to support women who have experienced gender-based violence. We will also be introducing a bill to the Scottish Parliament, setting an objective for public boards to have 50 per cent female non-executive members.

In terms of women’s equality, though we’re in a good place when we have a female First Minister, Prime Minister and two female opposition leaders, this in itself is not enough. Less than 35 per cent of members of the Scottish Parliament and 30 per cent of MPs are women. So we must continue to take the right steps to make the path that little bit easier for the next generation of women.

We are all likely to be leaders in certain contexts and circumstances of our lives and in my opinion a good leader should always be willing to learn from others and be open to constructive challenge, respect people’s diversity and different points of view and keep returning to their goals. All of which will earn the trust and confidence of others. But most of all I would urge our women leaders and future leaders to just be themselves. That’s the thing with diversity, there’s no one size fits all and encouraging more women into positions of leadership can only be of benefit to all.

Angela Constance is the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities