Quotas are not the answer to beating barriers

Following last month’s request for extra powers from Westminster, Holyrood ministers have now agreed to draw up plans for increasing the number of women serving in boardrooms.

At present less than a third of public body board members are female. Picture: Neil Hanna
At present less than a third of public body board members are female. Picture: Neil Hanna

At present less than a third of public body board members are female, despite the Scottish Government putting in place a voluntary target of 40 per cent five years ago.

With this approach seemingly not working, the SNP administration now wants to implement a system to enforce 40 per cent representation of females on the boards of both public institutions and private companies.

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As managing director of a Scottish-based SME with over 60 per cent female representation on its board, I have seen firsthand the value of having a strong contingent of women driving forward the strategy of a business but, while I would commend the overall intentions of the Scottish Government’s plans, I don’t believe that imposing quotas is the right way forward.

Any discrimination based on gender, as well as race or sexual orientation, must never be tolerated when it comes to determining the membership of a board but it’s important for all women and any people from minority groups who are aspiring to succeed in the workplace that we don’t create a culture of tokenism which can accompany a quota system.

The government should be adopting a carrot rather than a stick approach. They need to promote credible research into this issue, such as the 2012 report by the Credit Suisse Group AG which highlighted the increased financial performance enjoyed by companies with mixed boards.

Without being complacent, it should also be acknowledged that the situation is improving. We’ve seen women increase their numbers in FTSE 100 companies from 12.5 per cent to 19 per cent in the past two years.

The government can build on this success by continuing to focus efforts to open up more education opportunities to women, both in terms of formal education and on the job training, to further develop a society where the best can rise to the top without barriers and realise success based on merit, not on gender.

• Niall Moffat is managing director of Spotless Commercial Cleaning Ltd