Ian Stewart: Balanced approach to overcome gender challenges

Introduction to Vision Scotland, Spring 2016: Ian Stewart, Editorial Director of The Scotsman reflects on the gender agenda

Lot has changed since the first issue of The Scotswoman, but there's still some ways to go. Picture: Donald MacLeod

Back in 1995, I was part of a team of men who took a backseat while a female editorial team, led by Lesley Riddoch and Maggie Lennon, edited the first-ever edition of The Scotswoman. We were derided in some quarters for tokenism, but the issue cast a much-needed spotlight on Scottish public life and business, which was then very much a male preserve. It highlighted the debate about gender equality, what women had achieved in Scotland and the potential to do much more.

Things have moved on a lot since 1995. There are many positive stories to tell about women in Scotland – with the three main political parties now led by women – and the debate itself has moved on.

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It is not just about equality and diversity being the right thing to do; it is also about the business case for gender balance.

This issue of Vision Scotland examines the growing body of evidence showing that greater gender balance and diversity can help the bottom line of a business.

Our writers also look at some of the stubborn issues where there is still progress to be made – the gender pay gap, representation of women on boards and senior executive teams, and the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs.

However, the focus – as always with Vision – is not about hand-wringing, but how to overcome these remaining challenges.

Part of the answer involves positive role models and we feature many of them in this issue – including Debbie Crosbie, chief operating officer at Clydesdale Bank, the first woman whose signature appeared on a Scottish banknote.

It is also interesting to look closely at the cover image of Christine McLintock and Eilidh Wiseman, two highly successful lawyers who are the first women to serve together as president and vice president of the Law Society of Scotland. The picture shows them walking past a sea of male faces – pictures of past presidents dating back to 1949 which include just one female face.

These women are pioneers in a rapidly-changing world. There are now more female than male lawyers in Scotland but this has still not worked its way through into the upper reaches of the profession, where most senior partners and managing partners are still male.

There is still a long way to go in fast-growing areas like technology, too. The conversation between female tech leaders recognises that there are real gaps in attracting women into the sector and retaining them.

It is one of a number of features in this magazine where the “maternity penalty” is mentioned – the career gap taken by women who have families which can often make it difficult for them to reach top of their profession.

Increasingly flexible working, driven by rapid-fire technological change, is improving the situation – but is the education and skills system keeping pace?

And while the Scottish Government has put the gender balance issue at the heart of its policy programme, is the private sector doing enough?

These are the kind of big questions that Vision Scotland will continue to ask.

This magazine is committed to talking up the successes of Scotland and its business community in a positive, intelligent and informed way.

Look out for our forthcoming editions, on the Year of Innovation in June, food and drink in September and responsible business in December – and join the conversation.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.