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Scottish business doesn’t rate women leaders

This opinion piece is over 8 years old

Susan Smith was sorely disappointed by how few women were successful at this year's Institute of Directors Scotland Awards

Congratulations to Frank Sweeney, chief executive of Cunninghame Housing Association, who was the very deserved winner of the Institute of Director’s Third Sector Director of the Year award on Thursday night. This ceremony showcases the leaders of Scotland’s biggest businesses and it’s great to see third sector organisations recognised alongside businesses such as Edinburgh Airport, MacSweens and Mactaggart & Mickel Homes Ltd.

Saying that, my own enjoyment of Frank’s victory and the whole glitzy Crowne Plaza event was marred by one key issue – far too few women were honoured.

In the six regional categories, seven women were shortlisted alongside 14 men – only a single woman won. What’s more, four of the six regional winners were also highlighted in the two overall Director of the Year categories (one for companies under £35 million and one for those with an income above that), but not Christina Potter, chief executive of Dundee and Angus College and Tayside Regional Director of the Year. In fact, all of the seven candidates in the two main awards categories were men.

Significantly, women picked up the top awards in just four main categories – the Public Sector award (Christina Potter again), the Award for a Healthy, Carer Positive Workplace (Judy Keir from City of Glasgow College) and the Family Friendly and Flexible Working award (Celia Tennant, from Inspiring Scotland) – and of course the female director of the year, which went to Jo MacSween of MacSween's.

For the first time ever a woman, Dame Seona Reid, was honoured in the Chairman’s Award, but also for the first time ever, two people were honoured by the chairman – William Ritchie OBE also picking up this accolade.

That the female winners on the night were all successful in stereotypically feminine (read caring) roles speak volumes and is actually a slap in the face to women leaders

Chatting to a couple of the judges after dinner, they were adamant that the best candidates had won in each category. They claim there was no bias amongst the judging panel, which was admirably made up of seven men and five women. Perhaps women lack the confidence to apply, it was suggested.

Perhaps this is true. Or perhaps Scotland’s successful women leaders don’t need further affirmation of their abilities with a hunk of Caithness glass.

It is possible that the awards are a reflection of the inequality that exists in Scotland’s businesses. If this is the case, however, we have something to worry about as a society, and I would hope that the IoD Scotland would be examining what it can do to reduce the thickness of the glass ceiling.

I suspect that the truth, like women’s ongoing struggle for equality, is more complex however. That the female winners on the night were all successful in stereotypically feminine (read caring) roles speaks volumes and is a slap in the face to women leaders. Women’s value to Scottish business, we are to assume, is in creating caring and nurturing environments.

As a society, we are still far too caught up in recognising and honouring the stereotypical male qualities of leadership – high profit margins are far more important than people management. A healthy, happy environment is less valuable than an increase in productivity. Creating video games is more admirable than running a communications agency – and definitely more challenging than leading a multi-million pound public or voluntary sector body. It’s not just men who are guilty of making these false value judgements, women are too – we have all been brought up within the same patriarchal paradigm after all.

In the end, the atmosphere at the IoD Scotland Awards was magnificent and as with any awards, the winners were all very deserving. Next year, however, I personally will be hoping more effort is made to think beyond the usual stereotypes and present awards that represent the equal importance of women leaders across Scotland's economy.



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