Women make up 51 per cent of our population, but they are under-represented in decision-making positions across Scotland, including in the boardroom.
Women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts and reports of sexual harassment and violence in our society keep reminding us that these issues are not going away. This is not acceptable and in 2018, it quite simply should not be the case. Young women growing up in Scotland should not have to accept these things as inevitable.
The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill seeks to redress the under-representation of women on Scotland’s public boards, ensuring that women’s voices are heard where and when it matters and shape the decisions that are made in Scotland’s boardrooms and impact on our services. Scotland’s public bodies, colleges and universities are responsible for significant sums of public money and oversee and deliver public services which touch on all aspects of people’s lives.
We have made good progress to date – increasing the numbers of women on public boards from 35 per cent in 2007 to 45 per cent today, and last year we saw more women than men being appointed to public boards. Scotland continues to be a better place to be a working woman than elsewhere in the UK.
But this progress doesn’t just happen by accident. It has been achieved through the shared ambition and action of all of those involved in making public appointments in Scotland. I’m proud of the change we have made in a relatively short time. That is why it is so important that we lock in these gains and go further.
At its heart this bill is about equality for women. It is about this Parliament using the powers that it has to deliver a fairer, more equal Scotland.
But we know greater diversity in the boardroom also leads to better performance, encouraging new and innovative thinking and leading to better business decisions and governance. In other words it is the smart thing to do as well as the right thing to do.
Our bill is a significant step forward in ensuring we cement these gains, so that women are properly represented in senior and decision-making positions across Scotland.
Let me be clear that all candidates for public appointments will continue to be appointed on merit. We want the very best people to sit on Scotland’s public boards and that means ensuring that we are reaching out and attracting diverse and talented people.
Women need to be encouraged to apply for these positions in the first place. Evidence suggests that women are more likely to doubt their abilities and undersell themselves than men, but the evidence also shows us that when we get women into the process they perform very well.
And by introducing this legal requirement, we will drive change across the public sector, improving recruitment methods and making organisations work harder to find the most talented men and women to sit on our public boards
This bill will make Scotland the only country in the United Kingdom with a statutory gender representation objective for public boards.
This is an important step on our journey towards gender equality in Scotland, towards creating a fairer Scotland, and towards shattering the glass ceiling once and for all. I want this bill to be a catalyst for the equal representation of women in all areas of our society. This year is an important year for women’s history. It is 100 years since some women in Britain got the right to vote and women were allowed to stand for election to Parliament. Much has changed for the better in women’s lives but we cannot be complacent.
The best way that we can honour the sacrifice and the tenacity of the women who fought so hard for the rights that we enjoy today is to keep believing in and keep fighting for equality for women.
Angela Constance is Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities