Scotland adds 80 women board members since Sturgeon equality pledge


There are eighty more women on public boards in Scotland since Nicola Sturgeon first pledged to legislate for gender equality on government bodies in November 2015.

Of 90 government organisations surveyed by The Ferret, women now hold 47 per cent of all board positions – an increase from 41 per cent since November 2015. Sixteen more Scottish public bodies now have at least 5o per cent women board members since 2015.

However exclusive research by The Ferret has found that despite this progress toward gender equality in the board room there is still a significant gap between the pay women receive and the pay given to men at many major public bodies.

Whilst some public bodies claim to have eradicated the gender pay gap, 17 organisations reported a pay gap of 20 per cent or more. Nearly a third reported a pay gap larger than the national average of 16 per cent.

Across 90 Scottish public bodies surveyed by The Ferret, fewer than a quarter have women in the chairperson position. Since November 2015, there has been a net rise of just two women chairs on Scottish public boards.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone, and a co-founder of the 50/50 campaign, described the figures as “appalling.”

Critics say that progress towards gender equality has been “glacial” and that Scotland is still “way behind” countries such as Iceland and Norway, which have done the most to tackle gender inequality.

Our research sought to understand what progress had been made since Nicola Sturgeon first pledged that all Scottish public sector boards would have equal representation of men and women in November 2015.

The Ferret compiled data from 97 freedom of information requests to Scottish public sector bodies where the Scottish Government directly nominates the majority of board members.

We sent requests to every Scottish NHS Board, Further Education colleges, and a range of other Scottish public sector bodies.

83 supplied complete information, with a further seven supplying partial information.

It did not include local authorities where councillors are directly elected, or universities.

The full dataset has been available exclusively for Ferret subscribers at the foot of this story.

Which organisations meet the 50/50 pledge?

In 2018 there are 37 organisations that meet or exceed the 50/50 pledge, compared with 21 that met that target in November 2015. This means 16 more Scottish public bodies meet the pledge in 2018.

The public bodies to have made the most rapid progress towards female representation on their boards since November 2015 include the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, VisitScotland and Skills Development Scotland.

None of these bodies met the 50/50 pledge in 2015, but they now do, having each added four women to their board.

Despite meeting the 50/50 pledge, a number of these bodies still report a large pay gap between the median annual pay of men and the median annual pay of women. For example, men working at Bòrd na Gàidhlig typically get paid 37 per cent more than their female counterparts.

Meeting the 50/50 pledge

OrganisationProportion of Women in 2018 %Change in proportion of women since 2015 %Pay gap %
Scottish Legal Complaints Commission88450
Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration8629-29
NHS Education for Scotland758-27
Food Standards Scotland7500
National Library of Scotland69120
Borders College6720-25
NHS Forth Valley6315-11
NHS Fife634-15
Student Awards Agency for Scotland63-1-10
Scottish Public Pensions Agency6212-2
NHS National Services Scotland6015-9
NHS Shetland6013-19
Community Justice Scotland60-6
Ayrshire College590-25
Western Isles NHS Board5714
Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator577
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde5721-18
Regiter of Scotland56170
NHS Grampian5523-8
Skills Development Scotland5532
Bòrd na Gàidhlig5512-37
Education Scotland5555
NHS Dumfries and Galloway540-6
South Lanarkshire College5320
Glasgow School of Art53-6-11
Visit Scotland5039-14
Scottish Legal Aid Board5017-18
The Water Industry Commissioner for Scotland5017
Sport Scotland5014-7
NHS Lanarkshire5010-21
National Records of Scotland5070
Risk Management Authority507
National Galleries of Scotland5052
Scottish Ambulance Service505-7
Care Inspectorate5000
Edinburgh College50-3-2
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service50-5
The Scottish public bodies that have 50% or more women on their governing bodies at February 2018. Pay gap information is calculated from annual median pay. A positive pay gap value indicates women are typically paid more than men. Source: multiple Freedom of Information requests.

However there are also a number of public bodies that now have fewer women on public boards. In total seven Scottish public bodies that met the 50/50 pledge in 2015, now do not in 2018.

These include NHS Borders, which lost four women from its board between 2015 and 2018. It had 64 per cent women on the board in 2015. Now women make up just 36 per cent of the board there.

At the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland there are now two fewer women on the board, and those that remain now make up just a quarter of the board room.

At the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the body has lost two women board members, and reports a pay gap of 20 per cent – meaning men at the organisation typically get paid a fifth more than women.

In 2015, NHS Health Scotland met the 50/50 pledge, and had a woman chair person. It has since lost one female board member, and its female chair. Now women make up 42 per cent of the board.

Engender, a Scottish feminist campaign group, said that more must be done to increase the number of women on public boards and in chairperson roles in Scotland, as well as preventing any decline.

This data shows that women’s equality can only be achieved with political will, and continuous scrutiny

Emma Ritch, Engender Executive Director

“This data shows that women’s equality can only be achieved with political will, and continuous scrutiny,” said Emma Ritch, Engender’s Executive Director.

“We’re pleased that the figures show the Scottish Government’s 50/50 has had an impact on the number of women on public boards in Scotland, but the fact that seven public boards have gone backwards in terms of women’s representation show that action for women’s equality on boards must continue.

“It’s disappointing, although sadly not surprising, that this hasn’t led to a significant shift in the number of women in chairperson roles.

“Engender’s work on the gender balance of the top jobs in Scotland showed that 73 per cent of positions of power and influence in Scotland were held by men, and while this situation remains the same, we will continue to see Scotland fall behind on the gender pay gap.”

The pay gap

Gender Pay Gap

Gender equality is not just about who sits at the top table. As part of our probe into gender equality at Scottish public bodies we also looked at the pay gap at each organisation.

According to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics, the overall median pay gap in Scotland across all jobs and all sectors is 16.1 per cent. There are 28 Scottish public bodies where the gender pay gap is greater than this.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government claimed that the national gender pay gap was in fact 6.2 per cent and that this compared favourably with the equivalent UK-wide figure of 9.4 per cent.

Using the Scottish Government’s figure, 56 out of the 79 public bodies we were able to obtain data for have a gender pay gap greater than the national average.

Of these 56 bodies, many are significant employers.

13 are NHS boards such as NHS Lanarkshire, where men are typically paid a fifth more than women.

11 are colleges, like Ayrshire college, where the gender pay gap is 25 per cent between men and women.

Other public bodies with a pay gap greater than seven per cent include Scottish Enterprise, The Scottish Prison Service and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA), has a 29 per cent pay gap, and is among the public bodies with the largest difference in pay.

A spokesperson said that although men make up only 12 per cent of their workforce, the large pay gap at the organisation was because men were disproportionately represented in senior posts.

“The situation has improved over the last two years and we expect it to improve further by the time of our next report in 2018,” he added.

The Scottish Land Commission is a small organisation of 10 members. Using the median pay calculation across all staff and Commissioners also gives a 29 per cent pay gap.

Chief Executive Hamish Trench said that the commission “is committed to gender equality and this is reflected in the values and operation of our organisation in which 80 per cent of the staff, 75 per cent of the management team and 33 per cent of our board are female.

“We are committed to continually improving opportunities for all and have recently hosted an observer for six months on our Board in support of increasing the diversity of board members in Scottish public bodies.”

It’s ridiculous that decades on from legislation, equal pay and board representation is something we still have to fight for.

Alison Johnstone MSP

Green MSP Alison Johnstone, a co-founder of Women 5050, said: “It’s ridiculous that decades on from legislation, equal pay and board representation is something we still have to fight for.

“The Scottish Government needs to really press public sector organisations to ensure that a person is paid the same salary for doing the same job, regardless of gender.”

13 Scottish public bodies declined to provide comprehensive information on their gender pay gap. They are not included in the chart below.

Closing the pay gap

Campaign group Close the Gap released a short animation for International Women’s Day 2018 outlining the steps it believes need to be taken to close the pay gap between men and women.

According to the group, on average a woman in Scotland will be paid £400,000 less than a man over their working lifetime.

They say “progress tackling the gap has been glacial” in the UK and Scotland, and tackling it “requires a strategic, cohesive response.”

“We are yet to see that in Scotland, or in the UK.”

Elinor Mason, a feminist philospher at Edinburgh University, warned that “the gender pay gap and other indicators of gender equality suggest we are way behind,” countries such as Iceland, which has taken the top spot at the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for the ninth year in a row.

“We should ask why women’s work is paid less,” she said, adding that more equitable employment rules on parental leave and caring are key factors that puts Scandinavian countries such as Iceland, Norway and Sweden at the top of the gender equality league tables.

“We need to look hard at promotions processes, and one crucial point here, is whether working part-time and taking parental leave affect promotion prospects disproportionately,” she said.

Another factor she identified were the stereotypes facing both women and men in the workplace.

“We move in a social world that depends on deeply entrenched beliefs about what men and women are like, and what they are good at.

“Women are stereotyped as intuitive rather than rational, nurturing rather than ambitious, gentle rather than efficient, and so on. They are seen as less capable than men.

“Of course, the flip side is that it is hard for men to find work in jobs that are traditionally women’s work, such as early years education.”

Johnstone called on politicians to learn from the European countries that ranked high in the Gender Gap Index.

“The UK is surrounded by countries who rank far higher in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap rankings, so there is no excuse for not studying how our European neighbours are achieving greater levels of equality,” she added.

The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill passed it’s final stage in Holyrood this January. The bill requires all public boards to ensure that 50 per cent of non-executive members are women by the end of 2022.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Equality for women is at the heart of our vision for a fairer Scotland.

“We have passed the Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill, fulfilling a pledge made by the First Minister, which sets an objective for public boards to ensure that 50 per cent of their non-executive members are women. We also recently announced a £500,000 fund to help overcome workforce inequality.

“This builds on the progress that has already been made by the Scottish Business Pledge and the 50/50 by 2020 campaign.

“The gender pay gap in Scotland is decreasing, and fell to 6.2 per cent last year, compared with a UK-wide gap of 9.4 per cent.

Download the data

The full dataset for this story is available as an exclusive, members only download. You can join the Ferret here.

Download “Gender equality data”

Gender-Balance-on-Scottish-Public-Boards.xlsx – Downloaded 7 times – 34.73 KB

Research by Ally Tibbitt. Additional reporting by Jamie Mann. Illustrations by Chris Manson.

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