Leader: Gender quotas raise questions and answers

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Women make up 52 per cent of the population of Scotland.

But take a look at the board rooms and committee chambers where the most important decisions governing our lives are taken and you would find that hard to believe. Only a third of MSPs are women, less than a quarter of councillors and only 36 per cent of the public boards which run our NHS and other services.

We should be proud that in one sense at least the Scottish Parliament leads the world in terms of gender equality. Women currently lead our three largest political parties, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives.

It is inspiring to think that girls growing up in Scotland today will think it is perfectly normal for women to hold positions of power and influence, rather than seeing a female leader as someone remarkable, to be pointed out and talked about. Yet you don’t have to look far beyond some of our most high-profile female leaders to realise that we are still a long way off true gender equality.

Our decision-making bodies do not need to mirror the general population in order to make good decisions, but being a lot closer to doing so would certainly help.

The idea of imposing a legal quota to ensure half the members of public bodies are women has been gaining ground and has just won the support of Edinburgh councillors. Yet quotas raise as many questions as answers. Is it right that a woman gets a council or health board post ahead of a man who enjoyed stronger public support simply because of her gender?

The focus should stay on ensuring our parliament and other public bodies are just as welcoming to women as to men. That includes family-friendly working practices and perhaps mentoring schemes, but not a change in the law.