JUST two of Scotland’s 40 listed trading companies have so far hit a Government target for larger businesses of having at least 33 per cent of board positions filled by women

With only five of the 103 executive directors at these businesses being female, the chairwoman of Women’s Enterprise Scotland said the progress being made is “astonishingly poor”.

When non-executive directors are included, 17.1 per cent of board seats are occupied by women.

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On a more positive note, within the 11 Scottish trading companies on the FTSE 350 list of the UK’s biggest businesses, this rises to 26.2 per cent, ahead of the FTSE 350 average of 24.5 per cent.

And the total number of women sitting on the boards of Scottish trading companies listed on the London Stock Exchange has increased by five in the past year, to 50.

But research by The Herald has also discovered that the number of females in executive positions within this group of 40 companies has fallen to just five, from eight last year.

“Whatever way you look at it, the figures are astonishingly poor,” said Lynne Cadenhead. “The rate of change is at best glacial and there is no sense of urgency.”

Ms Cadenhead said the UK Government had to start looking at legislating for quotas to provide more balance. “I am moving more and more in favour of quotas, because it is increasingly clear that nothing will change otherwise,” she said.

While executive directors are responsible for the daily running of the business, part-time non-executive directors are seen as representing investors.

Thirteen groups on the Scottish list have no women on their board. A further 15 have just one woman.

A Scottish Government spokesman said while legislation on the make-up of private sectors boards was a reserved matter, it was encouraging businesses to follow its lead on aiming for gender parity on public sector boards.

The spokesman said the Scottish Government was serious about improving the representation of women and other under-represented groups in leadership roles, highlighting the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill which sets an objective for public boards to ensure that at least 50 per cent of non-executives are women.

“We are encouraging private sector firms to sign up to our voluntary campaign to achieve gender balance on their boards by 2020, but the powers to introduce legislation affecting private sector boards is reserved to the UK Government,” said the spokesman.

While there are seven female chief executives in the FTSE 100 there remain no female chief executives of listed businesses in Scotland.

Ms Cadenhead, who also serves as Visiting Professor in Governance and Enterprise at Edinburgh Napier University (ENU), said businesses are doing no more than “paying lip-service” to gender balance.

“They see it as a box-ticking exercise rather than a key driver of competitive advantage,” she said “We need to be crystal clear that gender balance is not an equality issue, it’s an economic one. One of the key enablers of productivity is innovation and there is a wealth of research which shows that women in particular drive radical innovation.”

The statistics emerge as big business comes under increasing pressure to close the gender pay gap, and have at least one third of boards made up of women by 2020.

In 2016 the UK Government set a target for women to take at least 33 per cent of board seats at the largest 350 listed companies, to set an example. As of last October, 28 FTSE 100 companies had reached the target. This fell to 21.2 per cent among the next tier of 250 companies.

Among Scotland’s 40 listed businesses just two achieved the 33 per cent total. They are Royal Bank of Scotland and Wood Group. Royal Bank of Scotland’s board has four female directors, all in non-executive roles. The most recent of these, former Scottish Enterprise chief Lena Wilson, joined earlier this month.

Across the top three layers of the Bank’s leadership, which has around 600 roles, 35 per cent are women. In its pipeline, which is the top 5,000 roles, women represent 44 per cent.

And the group has an aspiration for full gender balance at all levels by 2030.

“RBS promotes inclusion in all areas of recruitment and we understand the need for a diverse mix of talented directors to effect strong decision-making,” said a spokesman for the Royal Bank. “Our boardroom inclusion policy states that board nominations will continue to be made on the basis of individual competence, skills and expertise, but also with due regard to the benefits of diversity and inclusion.”

Wood Group’s board is made up of six men and three women.

Temporary power supply group Aggreko had been Scotland’s most diverse board with four of its 11 directors being women, including Carole Cran as chief financial officer. But Ms Cran’s departure for Forth Ports, and replacement on January 3 by Heath Drewett, not only reduced the ratio at group from 36.4 per cent to 27.3 per cent, but further reduced the number of female executive directors in Scotland.

The only female executives still on the list from last year are Debbie Crosbie at Clydesdale Bank owner CYBG; Jackie McKay at Frontier-IP; Katherine Tenner at Freeagent, and Nancy Cullen at SpaceandPeople. They have been joined by Michelle Motion at Springfield Properties, which floated in the last year.

Women who have left executive positions in the last year include Sarah Haran at Iomart and Kerry Crawford, who was ousted from Bowleven amid a boardroom coup.