BUSINESS groups have hit out at the lack of women on the boards of Scotland’s listed trading companies, urging them to take responsibility to support change, and for women to push harder for recognition.

The comments come as it was revealed that just 15 per cent of boardroom seats among Scotland’s 40 trading companies on the London Stock Exchange are held by women.

Furthermore, there are only nine female executives employed in these businesses.

One business group campaigning for more balance is Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES). Its chairwoman, Lynne Cadenhead, said research has proved diverse boards make better decisions.

She highlighted Catalyst research, which found a 26 per cent difference in return on invested capital between those companies whose boards were 19 to 44 per cent female and those with zero female directors.

“Scotland prides itself on being an innovative nation and studies show that innovation is driven by diversity of thought and experience,” said Ms Cadenhead, a serial entrepreneur, who is also chair of Unicef Scotland.

“We all need to take responsibility to support change and unlock the economic benefits which accrue from diversity.”

The Scottish Government last week announced £200,000 of funding for projects to support more women into business and tackle the gender gap. WES is among the groups to benefit.

Ms Cadenhead said much of the imbalance was created as a result of networking, with non-executive posts being filled by people known to current executives.

“It’s very much a leaky pipeline,” she said. “There are well-known issues about going off to have children but that is what women are going to do. When they come back into the working environment those who haven’t left have moved further up the ladder and it’s very difficult to break back into that management stage of their career.”

But she added: “It’s unfair to put it all down to men being misogynists and women not having networking opportunities. One of the reasons is that women just don’t put themselves forward because they don’t want to push themselves out of the comfort zone.”

Jane Gotts, a director at GenAnalytics, recently set up LeanIn Scotland – a wing of an organisation founded by Facebook chief executive Sheryl Sandberg to provide support to women in business.

Ms Gotts said: “It’s not about a lack of female talent, it’s about creating opportunities.”

Echoing the view of Ms Cadenhead, she said that in many instances boardrooms remained “a closed shop” to women because non-executive directors are recruited from a network from which women can continue to be excluded.

One thing that Ms Cadenhead is encouraging is for more women to get experience on work committees or charity boards. She also hopes more companies will establish junior boards made up of people aged 24 to 40. “I suspect you’d get more females to put themselves forward for that kind of activity,” she said.

Looking at privately-owned businesses and Ms Cadenhead said there was more gender equality in start-ups and small and medium enterprises.

“Problems come when they are going for more substantial growth,” she said. “Women start up with a third less capital then men on average, but if they started with the same, their growth would be just as good.

“Women have a more measured approach to risk which can make their companies more sustainable in the longer term.”

WES is currently establishing a male think tank to help examine ways to help create a business environment for women to grow in.

“A balanced board is a board that exhibits a range of traits across different people, a bit of intelligence, a bit of risk taking, risk measurement, emotional intelligence – that could all come from men, it could all come from women, but a balanced board will bring traits in from different people,” she said.

“There are not enough women in positions to create a pipeline. It should come naturally,” added Ms Gott. “There are lots of very capable women.”

She said to ensure change, women in positions had to speak out. “Role models are key,” she said. “It’s important to look at them as role models and share in their success to demystify the hype.”