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Revealed: Women frozen out of Scots boardrooms Few women at top

SCOTLAND's 30 largest listed companies have just 29 female board directors between them – and 10 have no women at the top table, a survey by The Herald has revealed.

EXCEPTION: Lesley Knox who chairs Alliance Trust.
EXCEPTION: Lesley Knox who chairs Alliance Trust.

Even at those firms with female representation, women tend to have a solitary boardroom position, which means they hold only around one in 10 of the 254 directorships offered by the country’s leading firms. The figures put Scotland below the UK average.

Those without a female director include such major names as power company Aggreko, Irn-Bru manufacturer AG Barr, STV, Scottish Investment Trust, Robert Wiseman Dairies, British Polythene Industries and oil services giant Wood Group.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, highlighted the opportunities being missed by companies that fail to promote women. “The lack of female presence on boards and in senior business positions has long been an issue, although things have improved in recent years,” she said.

“My view is that women have a vast array of talent and experience to bring to the table and we can often bring a unique perspective to the direction of a business and the decision-making process.”

She added: “Businesses which fail to develop or recruit women into senior roles could be losing out. That said, women should be on a level playing field with our male colleagues and merit must always be the deciding factor.”

Only seven of the big 30 companies have more than one female director. Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life each have three. Stagecoach, oil explorer Cairn, Scottish & Southern Energy, retinal-imaging technology firm Optos and Alliance Trust have two female directors each.

Lesley Knox, who chairs Dundee-based Alliance Trust, is one of the few women to have made it to the head of the boardroom table. Having been the first female group director at corporate financier Kleinwort Benson, she became governor of British Linen Bank. At Alliance Trust she oversaw the appointment of Katherine Garrett-Cox as chief executive, and she finds reason for optimism behind the stark figures.

“If you look across the piece there are incredibly impressive women doing the equivalent jobs of main board directors.”

She cited the example of people outside the listed company sector such as Linda Urquhart, former chief executive of law firm Morton Fraser and now chairwoman of CBI Scotland, entrepreneur Michelle Mone of Ultimo and Jayne Anne Gadhia, chief executive of Virgin Money.

“I would be more worried if there were not women at the top of other sectors,” she said.

She added that many women with children and partners who had their own demanding jobs were unable to spare the time to take on additional non-executive directorships to advance their careers.

It is notable that UK-wide, FTSE-100 companies have an average of 12.5% of board positions filled by women, well ahead of the 8.5% of board positions in all listed companies. Mrs Knox said that the disparity was likely because of the absence of female mentors in smaller businesses. But she is adamant more progress can be made.

Companies have come under increasing pressure to hire more female directors, although the UK has stopped short of Spanish-style quotas for representation.

An Aggreko spokesman said: “We have in the past considered women and will continue to do so.”

A spokesman for Wiseman said: “There is a formal, rigorous and transparent procedure for the appointment of directors to the board, with the composition of the board being considered through a full evaluation of the skills, knowledge and experience of directors.”

An STV spokeswoman said: “The executive leadership team responsible for implementation and delivery of strategy has two female members.”

Steven Hay, of Scottish Investment Trust, said: “There is no specific reason why we do not have women on the board. As and when the board is refreshed, candidates will be considered regardless of sex.”

He noted that half of its 10-strong team of investment professionals were women.

Wood Group and Cupid declined to comment. AG Barr, Devro and BPI did not respond to a request for comment.

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