Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's equalities spokeswoman, has asked an important question of the country's public bodies:
how many women are members of the boards that run them? Sadly, the answer, obtained through freedom of information legislation, is predictable: fewer than one-third in many cases and in some cases even fewer than that. More than 35 years on from the Sex Discrimination Act, men still dominate the bodies that run much of Scottish life.
This is particularly depressing for anyone who cares about equality. The Act was designed to equalise opportunity and yet women are still facing discrimination at every level of employment - from low-paid to highly-paid, from shopfloor to boardroom. Ms Baillie's finding is yet more evidence of the problem and demonstrates that, despite promises from the Scottish Government on the issue, the gender imbalance in public life is still a long way from being fixed.
There are two reasons it should be. The first is one of fairness: Women represent half the workforce so they should represent half of those at the top level of that workforce. The second reason is more practical: data on large European companies shows those with greater female representation are likely to perform better. In other words, greater female representation is fairer but can be more effective too.
The boards that run Scotland's leading institutions such as the Scottish Prison Service and VisitScotland should be particularly aware of this, because they have an example to set to private companies and the rest of the country. And yet Scottish Natural Heritage, for example, has only one woman among its nine board members. VisitScotland also has just one female board member.
The reasons for this imbalance are complex and part of a bigger cultural and economic picture that makes it hard for women to play an equal part. Despite some advances, notably in the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons, much of the structure and practice of public life is still unfriendly towards women and particularly women trying to mix work with parenthood. Until there are profound changes to the provision of childcare, progress on female workplace equality is likely to be slow at all levels.
This structural sexism partly explains why there are too few women on the boards of public bodies, although men appointing more men in their image is also a factor. The question is: how do we fix it? Ms Baillie says quotas are the answer, but they are likely to provoke the charge that women have been appointed not on merit but to make up the numbers; the idea of quotas is also unpopular with many women in public life.
A much better approach is to set a target - and there is no reason why it cannot be 50% - and an obligation on companies, and public bodies, to explain to government why they have not achieved it. The bodies that run our museums and prisons, our hospitals and courts, have a duty to represent all of society as fairly as possible; more pressure should be put on them to do so.
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