ACHIEVEING gender parity is “critically important” for Scotland’s business landscape, and although momentum is building, even the most progressive firms have much to do, according to one of the country’s most active proponents of equality.

Tricia Nelson, partner at EY’s Glasgow office, and head of talent for the firm’s UK advisory division, said Scotland was “holding its own” in moving towards equality, adding: “We’ve turned a little bit of a corner, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Ms Nelson said: “There are benefits to being a smaller country with a government that has set out clear agendas. It puts the conversation on the table. Our role is to be as integrated to that conversation as possible.”

At the recent launch event for Women in Journalism Scotland, which was sponsored by EY, Ms Nelson was joined by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and said it helped to see the Scottish Government leading by example. “Politics aside, there is in the First Minister a serious role model,” she said.

When asked if the Scottish Government’s 50/50 parity target for all public bodies by 2020 was achievable, she said: “I don’t think it matters – the intent and direction of travel is there.”

Ms Nelson said businesses of all sizes had a role to play – from appointing female senior managers, to publically discussing their efforts, and ensuring both men and women contribute to the debate.

She said there remained a level of “unconscious bias” towards men but added that when attention was drawn to this, attitudes and actions could quickly change.

“A lot more organisations are doing things than you think, and what we need to do is get a lot more public about discussing it and having that conversation,” she said.

“We are not twiddling on the side-lines; [diversity is] key to EY’s global strategy. Every partner and director. I’m proud of where we are but I know we need to do more as well.”

In addition to EY, Ms Nelson said gender issues were “very high” up the agenda for a number of the group’s clients.

“We know at all levels, if a business is more diverse and inclusive then the outcomes are better; higher GDP, a more inclusive economy. There is empirical evidence that it works.”

EY has previously stated that gender parity is an “economic imperative” and the World Economic Forum has used empirical data to illustrate how gender parity could add $240 billion (£196bn) to the gross domestic product of the UK.

EY has produced a report titled ‘Woman. Fast Forward’ which quotes the World Economic Forum’s prediction that it will take 170 years for women to win global pay equality, the same timeframe as predicted in 2008.

It highlights research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY that a business with 30 per cent female leadership could add six percentage points to its net margin. Yet 23 per cent of business leaders expect no change to gender diversity at senior management over the next five years.

A more recent paper by the Resolution Foundation highlighted ONS data that women in their twenties were closer to gender parity, before the gap widens in their thirties.

EY highlights five ‘disconnects’ that it believes are holding diversity back. They are that business leaders assume the issue is already resolved; that companies don’t effectively measure the progress of female staff; that a pipeline is not being created for future female leaders; that men and women don’t see the issue from the same perspective; and that progress is uneven among sectors.

One advantage to pursuing parity with such vigour is that talent is attracted. Ms Nelson said there was certainly a number of female direct entry partners who came to EY because of what they’d heard about the company’s practices.

Six of 11 recent partner appointments at EY Scotland were women, and for the first time, a woman – Sue Dawe – was in July appointed head of EY’s financial services practice in Scotland.

“What we now need to do is build that into everything we do,” she said, highlighting that 43 per cent of EY graduates last year were women. “Since the day I joined EY it’s been in the DNA of who we are.”