Anne Anderson, Vice-Principal, Head of the College of Social Sciences and Gender Champion at Glasgow University and VisitScotland board member, takes a personal look at gender equality on International Women’s Day.
Today we celebrate International Women’s Day and I am prompted to reflect on the changes that have happened over the years – and the challenges that remain. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which first gave the vote to some women in the UK. The act permitted all men over 21 to vote but only women over 30 who held £5 of property, or had husbands who did. What reckless political acts did MPs imagine would happen if women of 29 or with only £4 were allowed to vote? In 100 years we have gone from women deemed to be politically less reliable than men to a second woman Prime Minister and in Scotland a first female First Minister and leader of the main opposition party.
I wasn’t around in 1918 to witness this historic if limited piece of legislation becoming law. I was a student at the University of Glasgow in 1975 when the United Nations launched International Women’s Day. I am ashamed I don’t remember what we did to celebrate. I do recall being part of a group in 1973, writing to congratulate our first female professor on her promotion. Now, as Gender Champion at the University of Glasgow, I am acutely aware that we have more to do to achieve gender equality but we have made considerable progress over the years.
Some years ago a lecturer complained to me that if she turned up to lecture in jeans students ignored her as they thought she was a student but if she turned up smartly dressed they ignored her because they thought she was the secretary. We still have to guard against these kinds of assumptions. Training in how to prevent such unconscious biases influencing how we react to people, is one of the things we do in my organisation to help us become a more equal workplace. We also have schemes to try to ensure we develop an environment where all colleagues can flourish.
I was delighted to be appointed two years ago to the Board of VisitScotland. I don’t have a traditional tourism background but in my university life I spend considerable time developing our international profile, travelling overseas to promote the university and Scotland as a great place to study, work and of course visit. I have found the board experience fascinating. My board colleagues have a wide variety of experience and expertise and there is growing evidence that such diversity is helpful in making good business decisions – and that matters for the organisation and for Scotland. I also work with the Equality Group in VS to see if I can be of assistance with equality initiatives.
VisitScotland has a crucial role in promoting Scotland as an attractive destination for all kinds of visitors. I have been very impressed with the dedication of VS staff to this goal. It is also important that we reflect the diversity of our visitors and people who work in the visitor economy across Scotland. One of the pleasures of my board role is meeting some of these great individuals and organisations that the work of VS supports.
In Scotland, 2018 saw legislation on Gender Representation on Public Boards which requires boards to target of achieving 50/50 gender balance by 2022. In VisitScotland we are well ahead of this having already achieved a gender balanced board. I am confident this will help us make VisitScotland even more successful in future. Happy International Women’s Day.