Women board members appointed to Scotland’s public bodies get paid half a million pounds less than their male counterparts, despite a drive for gender equality, The Ferret can reveal.
Published pay arrangements for board members across 93 different public bodies, where appointments are largely overseen by the Scottish Government, show there are now virtually equal numbers of men and women serving on them.
But an analysis of their pay shows that female board members take home an average daily rate of £208 per day compared with men, who typically earn £224 per day.
Over a year this means women serving on public bodies earn thousands of pounds less than their male counterparts.
Critics have warned that it’s not enough for public bodies to be “getting women round the table”. They need to “enable women board members to access the roles that pay more, and have more power”.
Board members across the 93 public bodies collectively earn more than £8.8m each year. Women are paid around £4.1m of the total – meaning the men on these boards take home half a million pounds more between them.
The difference is largely because there are far fewer women serving in the more lucrative senior roles such as chairperson or commissioner. These roles typically command higher fees. There are 34 women serving in senior roles, compared with 60 men.
Among the top 20 highest earners on public boards, seven are women.
In 2015, Nicola Sturgeon pledged to work for gender parity on Scottish public bodies. Since then analysis based on freedom of information requests by The Ferret found that at least 10 organisations have lost their female chairperson and replaced them with a man.
The figures show there has been a net gain of just 14 women in senior board roles in the last six years. The data covers the majority of current regulated public boards but not all of them because of organisational changes and inconsistent responses to requests under freedom of information legislation.
Some public bodies have also gone backwards on gender equality since 2015.
New College Lanarkshire has reduced the proportion of women on it’s board since 2015, lost a woman from the chair role and seen its overall gender pay gap go up since 2018. Despite this, women make up 52 per cent of its board.
Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the public firm that owns many of Scotland’s lifeline ferries, has lost women since 2015 and now has just 25 per cent on its board. The firm has never had a women chair and has also seen its gender pay gap - the difference in typical amount paid to employees at all levels - widen since 2018.
Elsewhere, NHS Highland has seen the proportion of women on its board decline in the last three years, whilst its overall gender pay gap has risen too.
Anna Ritchie Allan, executive director of Close the Gap, said: “Assumptions about women’s capabilities and interests means they’re less likely to be in higher-paid roles. It’s not just about getting women round the table, public bodies need to enable women board members to access the roles that pay more, and have more power.
“Diverse boards make better decisions,” she added, “so public bodies that fail to appoint women are unlikely to be making the best decisions.”
Alys Mumford of Engender said legislation on public boards had not solved the problem of men dominating board rooms.
She said: “While it’s encouraging to see that legislation around gender balance on public boards has resulted in more boards with greater representation of women, these findings show that this doesn’t solve the problem of white male dominance.
The figures showed that women still had a “long way to go,” before they would actually have “equal pay, power and positions on boards,” Mumford added.
Meanwhile Scottish Greens equalities spokesperson Maggie Chapman called for boards that cannot “step into the 21st century” to be scrapped and replaced.
“The public sector has a duty to lead the drive for equality so it is disheartening that despite the increase in numbers of women on some public boards, they remain under-represented and under-paid,” she said.
She added that the sector needs to, “recognise that diversity makes far better leadership decisions than a steady rotation of the same stale pale and often male faces.
“We know that Scotland can – and must – do better,” Chapman said.
Committed to closing the gap
A Scottish Government spokesperson pointed out that the gender pay in Scotland was lower than the UK average for full-time employees and said: “We’re committed to closing the gender pay gap in Scotland.”
“Remuneration for board members of public bodies is determined by our public sector pay policy. Levels of pay are based on the appropriate labour market and being able to recruit the best candidates while providing value for money in the use of public resources,” they added.
NHS Highland chief executive Pamela Dudek said: "Diversity is key to a high-performing board, and women and non-binary people should be able to share their skills and participate fully in public life. When we recruit new board members, whether executives or non-executives, we advertise widely and shortlisting is gender-blind, with no names attached to applications.
“For upcoming vacancies, we intend to work with organisations promoting women on boards in order to reach as many suitable female applicants as possible, and also to feature introductory videos from current female board members.”
A spokesperson for New College Lanarkshire said all appointments to its board are approved by the Scottish Government and that 52 per cent of the current board is female. The college said that the Chair was appointed by the Scottish Government and added: “The Scottish Government is fully aware of the appointments made and the Board’s ongoing commitment to gender balance.”
The spokesperson added: “The Lanarkshire Board recruitment process encourages female applicants as is demonstrated by recent appointments. The appointments made do not make the Lanarkshire Board underperforming in any way.”
A spokesperson for CMAL said they were committed to a diverse workforce and that all vacancies “are advertised widely and are open to everyone with the relevant skills, qualifications and experience”.
“Our workforce is drawn from traditionally male-dominated professions and industries such as engineering and shipbuilding, and reflects the wider demographic trend that women are under-represented,” they said. “That said, two of our most senior engineering roles are held by women.
“However, we do recognise that more needs to be done to ensure girls are engaged with STEM subjects early on. We work closely with industry to support STEM initiatives that showcase careers in these industries as viable and exciting possibilities to young women.”
This investigation is part of our wider series Who Runs Scotland. We will be shedding a light on ownership and power in Scotland’s economy, environment and politics.
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Photo Credit: iStock/fizkes