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Dr Miles Weaver: A gender conscious approach to addressing grand challenges in Scotland and beyond …

We often hear the term “a unique Scottish approach” but what does it mean? Well, Scotland is distinctive, does things differently and is bold in its approach. This includes building a fairer and more inclusive economy.  Can we pursue growth and do this in such a way that we all prosper – our natural environment, our people and their communities and the part we play in this? I would argue it’s a “yes but …” and I’ll tell you why I hold this view.

Our grand challenges have been set out for us in the form of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Scotland is one of the pioneer countries that has committed to addressing them. This includes a pledge from all our political leaders to underpin all of what they do by embedding these goals into debates and policy. Progress has been made, embodied in the Scottish Government’s Economic strategy launched in March 2015.

It is beyond debate that ‘diversity of thought’ improves decision-making in our parliament, boardrooms, workforces etc.

In terms of the priority to build inclusive growth, the Scottish Government has launched the Scottish Business Pledge to engage business in proactively delivering to national outcomes, the Empowering Communities Bill and a focus on gender.  In terms of the latter, the Scottish Government has put into statue a policy to move much quicker to ensure equal gender balance on public sector boards. Not only is Scotland the pioneer for this, it will reap the benefits as we improve the ‘diversity of thought’ in our board rooms.

It is beyond debate that ‘diversity of thought’ improves decision-making in our parliament, boardrooms, workforces etc.In terms of gender-balance in the boardroom, we have seen significant progress since the Davies review. However, recent progress has been rather more disappointing. The gender balance bill will get us ahead in Scotland but of course, more has to be done. The Davies report suggested it will take over 70 years until we see gender balance in our boardrooms. This is not good enough, it’s a stain on our current evolution as a human race and we celebrate this month, some 100 years since women had the right to vote.  The SDGs clearly recognise the importance of ‘gender equality’.

Together we shall create a pathway for trustees. From our five-year experience of running the Edinburgh Napier ‘get on board’ initiative, nearly 2/3 of participants have been women.

It amazes me that gender inequality exists and I am blinded by some of the challenges we are still facing. Such as the gender pay gap at the BBC and other organisations that we see constantly raised in the news as well as the recent scandal at Oxfam. Age discrimination is another – take for instance that the average age of a trustee has been reported at ‘57’ but it has gone up to ‘62’ in a recent report by the Charity Commission. We need variety – the ‘57’ kind.

This is why we created a get on board initiative for young professionals at Edinburgh Napier University some five years ago. Plus, we have launched a ‘Leadership in Board Governance’ short course, starting again this March to create a pipeline of talent  and community of practice for sharing good and effective governance examples.  We are delighted that we are partnering with business and third sector organisations such as RSM, Santander, Anderson Strathern, Standard Life Wealth and Inspiring Scotland to bring about this change to the four universities in Edinburgh. Together we shall create a pathway for trustees. From our five-year experience of running the Edinburgh Napier ‘get on board’ initiative, nearly 2/3 of participants have been women. We inspire the next generation now by highlighting ‘diversity of thought’ now – not just women, young people etc., too.

I pose one example to get us thinking about ‘gender conscious’ approaches to addressing our grand challenges. I asked in class last week to choose one of the SDGs so that we can discuss how business may play a role in addressing the challenge. Well, the SDG chosen was goal 6 – clean water and sanitation and I read out:  “British women spend as much as £18,450 on their periods over the course of their lifetime, a large percentage of which goes on essential sanitary items”. Well this certainly got a debate going and all were surprised that this came up. Then the Government and business response were raised. This includes the so-called “tampon tax” while razor-blades are seen as essential items, thus are not taxable items. Plus, the commitment of the UK Government to use income to fund programmes such as violence against women etc., We can question how this policy came about in the first place – counting the number of women in parliament might be a start. Also, obviously ring-fencing income to fund women’s groups that may have been affected by the hands of men is open for criticism.

The SDGs provide a useful anchor for debate and action. A ‘gender conscious’ approach to addressing these ‘grand challenges’ can only provide an opportunity to build a more fair and inclusive Scotland. One where we grow and address social and environmental challenges. We do this by providing opportunities now by building a pipeline of talent for all in active communities of practice. In these communities of practice, we discuss good and effective governance and highlight the importance of “diversity of thought”. We will see the world in a different light and develop responses together to address the SDGs. One in which we grow and with more “diversity of thought” we will generate new ideas and understanding, align values, strengthen relationships … perhaps leading to less conflict and more peace?

Dr. Miles Weaver is an Associate Professor in SCM, Sustainability and Governance at Edinburgh Napier University. He is the Course Director for the Leadership in Board Governance (short course) that seeks to help and support senior staff to get on board and be part of a vibrant and supportive community of practice for leaders in board governance. Dr. Weaver research has focused on approaches to build a meaningful engagement between business and communities and a competency pathway for trustees.

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