Jenny Marra MSP -  Women’s Representation on Public Sector Boards  - Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

14 June 2012

I am delighted to be able to open a debate on equality in the Scottish Parliament in this, the United Nations year of empowering women.

I note that this appears to be the first time that the Scottish Parliament has ever debated women‟s representation on boards, but I hope that it will not be the last time.

Throughout Europe and the rest of the world, the debate about gender quotas has come to the fore. Now, more than ever, European nations that the Scottish Government seeks to emulate are taking action to make boardroom equality a standard practice in their businesses, public bodies and Parliaments.

It can be done.

It has been almost 10 years since the Norwegian male Conservative Minister of Trade and Industry, Ansgar Gabrielsen, completed Norway‟s transition from a state that operates a 40 per cent quota on public boards to one that includes the private sector in that quota system.

It took just two years for Norway to reach its quota of 40 per cent female representation on its public limited company boards. Its boardrooms have equalised, both in the private sector and in its public bodies.

It took Finland six years, from 2005, to bring all of its public boardrooms from 30 per cent representation of women to up to 44 per cent.

Iceland's target of 50 per cent was achieved in just one year.

Gender quotas for public boards are in place in Denmark, South Africa, Israel, Quebec, Berlin and—at a local level—Nuremberg, and have been proposed in Belgium, Canada and Italy.

They are becoming a more and more attractive choice for nations where, as is the case in Scotland, diversity strategies, leaflets, DVDs and the mentors that the Scottish Government proposes are simply not working.

The attraction of quotas has grown so much that, just last week, the majority right-wing European Parliament backed a European Commission recommendation to bring gender quotas into the boardrooms of all of Europe‟s companies by 2020.

Angela Merkel has called the gender composition on Germany's boards scandalous, and even David Cameron has said he will not rule out quotas for gender representation.

However, two days ago in committee, the Scottish Government rejected the amendments to the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill that would have introduced quotas.

In light of all the evidence and all the progress that is being made around us, I ask the chamber this: when did the Scottish Government become less progressive on equality than a Conservative Prime Minister in London?

Labour's motion suggests that Scotland would benefit by learning from progressive policies in other European countries that have successfully balanced their boards—a course of action that all sides of this chamber should agree upon.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that, as all sides of this chamber agree, gender should not matter, and board appointments should be made on merit and merit alone.

However, what the Scottish National Party Government and the Tories fail to realise, but the Scottish Labour Party always has, is that no matter how much we will it to be irrelevant, the reality of the culture for those seeking positions at Scotland‟s boardroom level is that gender matters, and that the situation is usually to the detriment of women.

 Humza Yousaf (Glasgow) (SNP): Why, in the 13 years when it was in power, did the Labour Government not bring in a 40 per cent quota for public sector bodies?

Jenny Marra: We have always supported equal representation in our party and it is something that we will look towards in the future.

We have been out of power for quite a few years in Scotland, but we will certainly look at the matter for the future.

We understand that, at the heart of Scotland‟s public boards, there is a deep-rooted culture that ensures that the merit of a man is worth more than that of a woman.

It is something that diversity strategies alone have not, and cannot, address.

No amount of application information to highly skilled and qualified women through Government DVDs, brochures and e-mailed vacancies are changing a culture where the statistics show us that women fight an uphill battle for board positions, because they know that they will lose out to men.

Pretending otherwise is simply burying our heads in the sand.

Gender equality at boardroom level has not happened organically in the 13 years that the Parliament has existed, and the statistics tell us that it is unlikely to happen organically in the next 13 years either, unless we take bigger, bolder steps to make it happen.

As a solution, quotas offer us the ability to join other European nations to make a strong statement about our Government's commitment to the equal value of women‟s merit, as well as men‟s, and the 40 per cent model that we have proposed does so elegantly.

Let me explain it.

Boards would require 40 per cent women and 40 per cent men, with flexibility of 20 per cent for boards with an uneven number of members, or in cases where there was an insufficient number of either gender.

The model is taken from the highly successful Finnish equality act and it has been proven to work.

For as long as we agree that the merit of a man is equal to that of a woman, we should not object to each having an entitlement to a minority 40 per cent representation on the boards that govern all our public services.

I lodged two amendments to the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill that would have introduced a 40 per cent quota on the boards of Scotland‟s new police and fire service.

I lodged the amendments after learning about the shocking rate of representation of women on the scrutiny boards of our police forces.

Those boards hold the police to account.

Officers deal with gender-based issues such as domestic abuse and prostitution every day, but the boards that scrutinise the police comprise only 18 per cent women.

 John Wilson (Central Scotland) (SNP): Can the member indicate how the appointments to the current police boards are made? My understanding is that the majority of the appointments come from local authorities, some of which are dominated by the Labour Party.

Jenny Marra: I think that the member will find, if he looks at gender representation among councillors in Scotland, that Labour has a much better record of electing women to local authorities and to this Parliament than the Scottish National Party.

He only has to look to Dundee City Council, where 16 SNP councillors were returned and only two of them were women.

I think that the same happened in Glasgow City Council, but perhaps the minister will correct me on that.

The boards of Scotland's police forces comprise only 18 per cent women.

In Northern Constabulary, only two of 22 members were women.

In Dumfries and Galloway, just one of 10 members was female and there were no women at all on the Central Scotland police board, which had 11 members.

Where are the women's voices to scrutinise and hold our police services to account?

When we look at other boards across Scotland, we find that the situation does not improve.

Christine Grahame: The member is concerned about gender balance and interventions. However, does she agree that the Justice Committee took the view that it is quality on the board, be it a man or a woman, that counts, and not a gender balance?

Jenny Marra: If the member had been listening to my speech, she would have found that I have already made the case that a quota enforces the idea of a meritocracy and that we should not be scared of saying that women's merit is equal to that of men and that, as Alison McInnes MSP eloquently put it in committee a couple of weeks ago, equal representation is not happening organically so it needs a hand along.

In Shona Robison's portfolio, sportscotland's governing board has a gender balance of 78 per cent men to just 22 per cent women.

The average percentage of women on Scotland's public limited company boards is a shocking 11 per cent.

In fact, men comprise 80 per cent or more of board members on boards such as those of the Accounts Commission, Architecture and Design Scotland, Creative Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board, VisitScotland, the Scottish Law Commission, Transport Scotland, Scottish Water and the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy‟s own NHS 24.

Those are just a few examples.

There is not a single board on the Scottish Government's register of public bodies in which the reverse trend can be seen.

It is therefore little wonder that the motion has gained support from the likes of Oxfam, Engender, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the National Union of Students Scotland and that it has been further welcomed today by the Electoral Reform Society.

It is timely that gender quotas have been recommended to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Mike Russell, in his commissioned review of higher education governance.

Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski has recommended the 40-40-20 model because the balance in university governing bodies is 72 per cent men to 28 per cent women.

The rest of Europe has grown tired of inequality, and it is high time that Scotland balanced its boards.

 I move,

That the Parliament believes that women and men play an equal role in Scotland's public sector; notes with concern that women continue to be underrepresented on the boards of Scotland‟s public sector organisations; understands that barriers continue to exist for women gaining a place on such boards; further understands that nations across Europe such as Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland have introduced a quota system that has been successful in promoting equality of representation on public bodies and publicly owned company boards; notes that the European Parliament voted to recommend a 40% quota on company boards throughout Europe by 2020; further notes the recommendations of Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski in the Scottish Government's Report of the Review of Higher Education Governance in Scotland to introduce a 40% gender quota for Scottish university courts, and believes that such measures should be replicated throughout Scotland‟s public bodies to bring about equal representation.




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