The reasons for increasing the number of women in leadership positions in business, public life and politics are well known.

Now it’s time for action.

The next in our series of ‘On Our Radar’ articles looks at the topic of women in leadership.

In Wales 42% of our current AMs are women. While this compares well to other parliaments, this has slipped from over 50% when the Assembly was first created.

On a national level, just 9 out of our 40 MPs are women and at the local council level, women account for just 27% of local councillors.

The picture is not much better when we look at leadership in the public and private sector either.

Just 2% of chief executives of the top 100 businesses in Wales are women. 18% of local government chief executives are women and 36% of chief executives of the 100 largest Welsh charities are women.

Over the past few years, the case for addressing the under-representation of women in leadership and decision making has been made clear.

There is now a broad political consensus that gender balanced boards, parliaments and leadership teams are better for women, for business and for society.

Out of the five parties currently represented in the National Assembly for Wales, the majority included pledges in their manifestos to take action to address the imbalance.

Time for action.

We know what issues lie behind the under-representation of women in decision making and leadership. Now, as we move into a new Welsh Government term, it’s time for action.

The Wales Bill, which is currently making its way through the UK Parliament, will deliver a new devolution settlement for Wales.

This includes additional powers to advance equality. It will offer Welsh Government the opportunity, should they wish to use it, to implement gender quotas for public boards.

Quotas are often a controversial topic with many arguing that jobs should be “appointed on merit” or “go to the best person for the job”.

But the reality is, that at present we do not live in a true meritocracy. Due to a range of issues, men remain much more likely to be appointed to leadership roles.

International evidence shows that quotas are successful. The introduction of quotas in Norway in 2003 saw the proportion of women on corporate boards jump from 15% to 40%. In Lesotho quotas have delivered 56% female representation on councils.

This is compared to 23% at the national level, where there has been no positive action.

Not a silver bullet.

Quotas provide the legislative “nudge” required to prioritise action and deliver results at a far quicker pace.

No-one is suggesting that implementing gender quotas for public boards will solve all of the issues. They should be used as a temporary measure.

They should be accompanied by other initiatives that build the talent pipeline, address some of the structural barriers our current recruitment processes create and challenge cultural barriers.

In Wales, we have strong political buy-in to tackling this issue, but to date the pace of change has been slow.

It’s our view that the new Programme for Government should include a commitment to implementing gender quotas for public boards and to developing an action plan which seeks to deal with the structural barriers that are preventing women from taking an equal role in decision making in Wales.


Policy Papers: Women in Decision Making

On Our Radar: The Potential of Female Enterprise