Scottish universities make board gender balance pledge

Scotland’s universities have committed to achieving gender balance among the independent members of their governing bodies.

April 9, 2015

The 18 higher education institutions will work towards having a minimum of 40 per cent men and 40 per cent women on their boards, with the remaining 20 per cent of places open to both genders, the Committee of Scottish Chairs announced on 9 April.

The commitment applies to the independent appointed members who typically make up two-thirds of a governing body, but it does not apply to the members who are elected by staff, students and sometimes alumni.

Currently, women represent 32 per cent of all independent members on Scottish university boards, and progress toward the 40 per cent target will be reviewed in 2018.

David Ross, chair of the Committee of Scottish Chairs and chair of the governing body at the University of Glasgow, said universities were “determined to do better” on gender equality.

“Our higher education sector thrives on diversity, whether that is diversity of opinion and perspective or the diversity of the 18 higher education institutions themselves,” he said.

“We must do everything we reasonably can to ensure that our governing bodies – the place where strategic decisions are made – reflect and encourage diversity amongst their membership.”

The committee said universities would work to attract more prospective female governors through targeted advertising and a relaxation of the requirement for previous board experience.

Mr Ross asked students and staff to make a similar commitment relating to their selection of their board members to help the overall drive towards equality.

The decision was announced as Scotland’s universities separately resisted efforts by the Holyrood government to impose further governance changes on institutions – including a requirement for chairs of boards to be elected – expressing concern over academic autonomy.

Michael Russell, the former Scottish education secretary, had voiced an interest in legislating to require 40 per cent of board members to be women, but the chairs’ decision will be seen as an example of what universities can achieve on governance independently.

Pete Downes, convener of Universities Scotland and principal of the University of Dundee, said the commitment was a “very positive step”.

“The 40:40:20 approach to gender balance gives institutions some flexibility to ensure we continue to appoint the strongest candidates to what are strategically important roles,” he said.

“This is important for good governance, for the candidates themselves and to ensure that our universities remain competitive.”

Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish cabinet secretary for fair work, skills and training, described the chairs’ decision as a “significant step” towards the Holyrood government’s goal of achieving a 50:50 gender split on public, private and third sector boards by 2020.

“A fair gender balance on boards leads to better decision-making and stronger businesses and ties in with our commitment to promoting equality and social justice,” she said.

“It is great to see universities take the lead on this issue and we would encourage other organisations to follow their example.”

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

This is a step in the right direction, however it is disappointing that Scottish universities have once again missed the opportunity to seriously address the gender inequality issue *within* their own structures. Such a pledge diverts from doing exactly that while gaining positive, eye-catching headlines in the meantime, perfect procrastination strategy!

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham