If women aren’t at the table, they’re on the menu

by Emma Ritch, Executive Director of Engender

In the last couple of weeks there has been a flurry of interest in the issue of women on boards in Scotland. There’s been some media attention, including a discussion on Scotland Tonight and news articles.

To young women who are studying, or working in their first jobs, the boardroom seems like an incredibly remote place. We’re all much more likely to see one on TV or in films than in real life. Most of us will never sit in their comfortably padded chairs, or make decisions around their enormous tables.

Yet the decisions made in boardrooms are important to all of us. It’s where private sector newsagents and supermarkets decide whether to continue selling lads’ mags like Nuts and Zoo. It’s where public bodies decide how much funding services like Rape Crisis centres will receive. It’s where all organisations decide how they will focus their time and resources.

There’s a saying that’s often repeated when the subject of women and boards comes up: “If women aren’t at the table, they’re on the menu.” It means that discussions that don’t include women often come to conclusions that don’t reflect the reality of women’s lives.

When you bring women into the conversation, you talk about different subjects. The 50/50 campaign brought women’s groups together to campaign for gender parity in the Scottish Parliament. They were successful in creating a Parliament with a different culture from Westminster’s; one with family-friendly working hours, and a crèche that can be used by visitors.

The international evidence tells us that the best performing boards are those that have a mix of men and women. They make better, wiser decisions. When it comes to public services, which we all depend on, it’s even more important to be sure that women are among the decision-makers and that good decisions get made. So how do we collectively make sure that women get a seat at the table?

Despite decades of awareness-raising, many organisations have a very low number of women on their boards. Many countries around the world have introduced quotas to get balance more quickly. These temporary arrangements mean that organisations are required by law to find women to fill a certain proportion of their board positions. It’s common for this proportion to be around 40 per cent, which is still a lot less than the proportion of people who are women! Contrary to the doom and gloom predictions that there wouldn’t be enough talented women to fill all these extra positions, countries that have introduced quotas have found that the quality of the people on their boards has gone up. Their board members are even more qualified and skilled to make the important decisions.

Public sector cuts have had a serious impact on women in Scotland, both as workers and as people who depend on public services. It’s time for us to take a bold step to make sure that women’s voices are part of all the conversations about the future of Scotland’s public services.


Young Woman’s Achievement Award

by Alison Fraser, Winner of the SWC Young Woman’s Achievement Award

At the STUC’s Youth Conference in June, this year, I was lucky enough to receive the Scottish Women’s Convention’s Young Woman’s Achievement Award.

This award was launched at the STUC Youth Conference 2012 by Agnes Tolmie. It was introduced so that young women’s achievements could be recognised by others – as well as themselves – with the winner receiving an all expenses paid experience relevant to them e.g. a trip to the European Parliament.

I won the award for my contributions and advancements to young women. Before winning I never thought of everything I’d done as achievements. I saw them as what had to be done to get the voice of young women heard not only by policy makers, but society itself. Many people today do not listen to young people or value what they say. However, I made sure people listened to me and took on board my concerns.

The biggest achievement I have to date was speaking in the Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament in front of 380 women as part of the SWC’s International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations in 2008. And through winning this award I am no longer shy and embarrassed to tell people of that amazing opportunity (I was 13 year old at the time).  I am also very honoured to be asked back to speak at IWD 14.

It’s hard to put into words what this award means to me. I have gained a lot more confidence in myself and have started looking at different things I am doing as achievements.  For example, I have self funded, during the past two years, to attend Commission on the Status of Women Conference in New York City with the SWC. I have attended the UK Ambassadors reception, made contact with women from many different backgrounds all around the world and this year I had someone recognise me from the work I have done with the SWC. Even now I’m writing all this it doesn’t seem real, it doesn’t feel like I have actually had all these amazing experiences. So through winning this award I have even surprised myself with things that I have done in 6 years.

I still volunteer as much as possible with the SWC trying to fit in around University and part-time work!  Although I can’t do as much as I used to do, I still love the satisfaction I get when I have helped out at an event, at a stall or by going to an event on behalf of the SWC.  I feel that I have contributed just a little bit more to the women’s movement and that I am getting the voice of young women recognised.

I would most definitely encourage you to nominate any young women you know for this award. Whether it is a one off achievement or it is an ongoing- this award can show them that what they’re doing is appreciated.

* If you know of a young woman (under the age of 25) who you believe would benefit from being nominated for this award, please click here for the application form. The closing date for this year’s nominations is 31st March 2014.