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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

Call for Scottish campaign to champion female leaders

FOR MANY YEARS NOW, more girls than boys are going to university, and in some particularly traditional professions, such as law, accountancy and medicine the majority

of graduates are now female. You might expect that this would eventually mean that women will take most of the leadership positions but it appears that this is not happening anytime soon.

It may still be down to the fact that women tend to take career breaks in their 30s at a time when their male colleagues are busy climbing the ‘greasy pole’. In many walks of life it seems it is di cult for women to catch up a er having children and many senior women seem to be either childless or have taken very short maternity breaks.

To some extent, the academic world seems to have got this licked with many of our universities now led by women, even the ‘ancients’. Scotland’s oldest University, St. Andrews, has just appointed its second female principal, Sally Mapstone, to replace Louise Richardson who has now moved on to lead the University of Oxford.

In the world of politics, our Prime Minister and First Minister are both female, as are the leaders of the next two main Scottish political parties. I’m writing this in Washington DC where many expect the next US President will be Hillary Clinton and, of course, Europe’s largest economy is led by Angela Merkel. Although you might dispute their policies, few would doubt their respective leadership abilities.

The financial community has had some notable successes: Anne Richards now runs one of the UK’s biggest investment businesses, M&G, having previously been chief investment officer at Aberdeen Asset, and for many years Susan Rice ran the Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Scotland, and Debbie Crosbie is the chief operating officer of the Clydesdale/Yorkshire bank.

However in general only about two per cent of fund managers are female and in the last year the fund that had bucked this trend, Dundee-based Alliance Trust, dumped Katherine Garret-Cox as CEO and Karin Forseke as chair, restoring the ‘old boys’ club in charge. And in the technology sector, even though it is a non-traditional industry, the lack of females with engineering backgrounds means that there are very few senior managers.

Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University has just appointed the high profile businesswoman Heather McGregor as its dean. Ms McGregor is probably best known for her ‘Mrs Moneypenny’ column in the Financial Times and presenting ‘Superscrimpers’ on Channel 4, but she is also a former investment banker and a co-founder of the ‘30% Club’ - the organisation which campaigns to achieve the goal that 30 per cent of board director positions are occupied by women.

In this, progress has been made in recent years; in the UK the proportion of women on boards is now approaching 25 per cent and last year’s Davies report for the UK government recommended that the target be now raised to 33 per cent.

The UK 30% Club has notably set its face against legal quotas, but where mandatory quotas do apply they have had a noticeable effect. France, Germany and Italy have all applied Government quotas and in France, where females currently make up 33 per cent of boards, a 40 per cent quota has been set for 2017.

As various studies have shown that, on average, the presence of females in leadership roles in companies leads to enhanced profitability, a Scottish campaign to improve the situation would seem worthwhile.

Maybe we should call on our, mostly female, political leaders to show some collective leadership. ■

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