Far from shattering the glass ceiling, Scottish women are being ignored for places on the boards of our leading companies. A detailed study by SR reveals an astonishing state of affairs: of the 111 board appointments in the top 10 Scottish-owned companies, only 24 are occupied by women, and of these only six – repeat, six
– live in Scotland.
Our research exposes the myth that substantial progress is being made in meeting the EU's objective, set five years ago, that the largest companies should have 40% female representation on their boards. The present average in the EU is 23.3%, with the UK as a whole among those doing better than average (27.1%) and France substantially better (37.1%).
But the Scottish performance seems to be significantly worse: among the top 10 firms it is only 21.6%.
Here are our findings in more detail (it should be emphasised that we excluded companies that are not Scottish-owned):
, energy supplier based in Perth: board of 10 of whom 3 are women (30%).
Standard Life Aberdeen
, financial institution based in Edinburgh: board of 17, of whom 4 are women (23.5%).
, generator rental company based in Glasgow: board of 10 of whom 3 are women (30%).
, transport operator based in Perth: board of 12 of whom 3 are women (25%).
, transport operator based in Aberdeen: board of 11 of whom 2 are women (18.1%).
, motor dealer based in Glasgow: board of 9 of whom 1 is a woman (11.1%).
, energy company based in Aberdeen: board of 13 of whom 4
are women (30.7%).
Willliam Grant & Sons
, distillers based in Dufftown: board of 9 of whom none is a woman (0%).
, water supplier based in Dunfermline: board of 11 of whom 3 are women (27.2%).
, distillers based in Glasgow: board of 9 of whom 1 is a woman (11.1%).
Two particularly striking facts emerge: first, there is a top 10 Scottish company (Grant) which apparently feels no obligation to make even a token gesture towards equality in the composition of its board; second, the public utility (Scottish Water), despite its female chair and the wider social responsibility its status implies, falls far short of achieving a gender balance.
Together the top 10 employ 207,000 people. Collectively, there is one male board member for every 2,379 employees; one female board member for every 8,625 employees.
We looked more closely at the female appointees on top 10 boards. Of the 24, one appears twice: banker Lynne Peacock is a non-executive director of both Standard Life Aberdeen and Scottish Water, immediately reducing the number to 23. Of these, 12 live in England, 6 in Scotland, 4 in the United States and 1 in Luxembourg.
The Luxembourg appointee is the most exotic of the lot: Countess Jutta Grevinde Af Rosenborg, who has connections to the royal house of Denmark, adorns the board of the recently-merged Standard Life and
Aberdeen Asset Management. The Americans helping to run Scottish-owned companies are Linda Adamany and Mary Shafer-Malicki (Wood Group), Barbara Jeremiah (Aggreko) and Martha Poulter (First Group), whose combined impact on the public consciousness of Scotland is precisely zero.
From a trawl of Companies House records, we were able to calculate that the average age of the 23 female directors is 57, that there is no one younger than 46 (the age of Julie Chakraverty of Standard Life Aberdeen), that five are in their 60s and three in their 70s.
Having established that 17 of the 23 live outside Scotland, we were curious to discover the identity of the handful left. Possibly the best known is 74-year-old Ann Gloag
, co-founder of Stagecoach with her brother Brian Souter. Another is the American-born Susan Rice
, for years a ubiquitous figure in Scottish public life, who chairs Scottish Water at the age of 71. A third is Philomena Clark
, aged 70, widow of Sir Arnold, the only woman on the board of the family firm. The others are Janice Brown
, 62, of the Wood Group; 48-year-old Samantha Barber
, former CEO of Scottish Business in the Community, who is a non-exec with Scottish Water; and Sue Bruce
, aged 62, former chief executive of Edinburgh City Council, who sits on the board of sse. The average age of the female directors living in Scotland is 64 years five months – considerably higher than the overall average.
SR's survey invites a number of questions.
Do our top 10 companies agree or disagree with the conclusion of successive surveys, endorsed by the EU, that companies with a relatively high representation of women on their boards perform better? If they agree, why do they appoint so few? If they disagree, what is their reasoning?
Why do these companies apparently place so little value on the potential contribution of notable women – particularly younger women – resident in Scotland (through not necessarily of Scottish birth)?
The youngest member of France's new government – a woman – says she
intends to name and shame large companies whose boards fall far short of gender equality. If she was a member of the Scottish government, she would be naming and shaming all 10 of our leading companies, none of which comes remotely close to the EU objective of 40%. Given the facts now in the public domain as a result of SR's investigation, will the impeccably gender-balanced cabinet of Nicola Sturgeon adopt a similar policy?
Whatever the answers, 24 female appointments out of 111 is a lamentable indictment of corporate Scotland. But the real shock, and the deeper problem, is the failure to recognise the many women of flair and accomplishment in our midst.
Note: The board of ICS, publisher of the Scottish Review, is gender-balanced: 50% women; 50% men.