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Public boards gender equality bill comes to the Parliament

19 June 2017

Equal numbers of men and women should be members of public boards in Scotland by 2022, under a Scottish Government bill just published.

The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill sets an objective that 50% of non-executive members will be women in five years' time.

It will extend to certain public bodies, colleges and Higher Education Institutions in Scotland.

The Government already has a "50/50 by 2020" pledge, which has seen nearly 200 organisations sign up voluntarily to improve gender balance on their boards, and women now account for 45% of all ministerial appointments to regulated public boards in Scotland.

Where a public board has an odd number of non-executive members, the gender representation objective applies as if the board had one fewer member. It also places a requirement on appointing persons and public authorities to take such steps as they consider appropriate to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members of public boards.

Under the bill, where candidates are of different genders, the appointing person must first determine whether any particular candidate is best qualified for the appointment. If no particular candidate is best qualified, they must identify candidates they consider to be equally qualified, and give preference to a candidate who is a woman if appointing that candidate will result in the board achieving (or making progress towards achieving) the gender representation objective. But they must also consider whether the appointment of a candidate who is not a woman is justified on the basis of a characteristic or situation particular to that candidate.

The policy memorandum published with the bill points out that the gender representation objective previously consulted on has been amended to remove the requirement for a public board to have 50% of non-executive members who are male or who identify as male, which "is intended to eliminate the perceived barrier created through the use of a binary definition of gender, for people who do not identify as either male or female".

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance commented: “Addressing the under-representation of women on boards is a key priority of this Government. A gender balanced board, that better reflects the employees of an organisation, is not only the right thing to do but also leads to better decision making.

“We have already seen good progress when organisations voluntarily commit to improving gender balance. This is welcome and shows there is an appetite in Scotland for tackling this issue. The bill is the next step towards building on this progress."

She added: “Let me be clear though that all candidates for public appointments will continue to be appointed on merit. But 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.”

Click here to access the bill and related papers.



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