Legislation possible for 40% women on public boards

Prof Laura McAllister said the public appointment process was "loaded towards male characteristics and experiences"

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The Welsh government says it will not be afraid to introduce a law to ensure more women are appointed to the boards of public bodies.

It has set a target for women to be appointed to at least 40% of places.

However, the latest Welsh government figures show only around a third of all appointments (32.2%) are women.

Ministers pointed to the example of Sport Wales, the national organisation for promoting sport which has tried to reach out to women.

Equalities Minister Jane Hutt said: "We're going to take stock in a few weeks and months time. Is it going to make a difference? Has it made a difference? Have they (public bodies) got their plans?"

'Positive action'

Start Quote

All the evidence suggests that if we're serious about proper gender equality then without the leadership we've shown in Sport Wales to get women on the board... then quotas are something that have to be considered”

End Quote Prof Laura McAllister Chair, Sport Wales

"But yes we would look for legislation - positive action is what we want - but I think that we should at least have the powers if we needed it to at least go further than that and say we should have the competence to at least consider law."

Led by chairwoman Laura McAllister, the gender balance of Sport Wales' board went from eight men and one woman to five women and nine men in 2012.

Potential female candidates were approached directly and encouraged to apply, and Sport Wales changed the wording of its application material to try to make it more "gender-friendly".

The number of women applying to join the board trebled in 2012 after the changes were made, and other organisations have been urged to follow its example.

Research cited in Welsh government cabinet papers says female appointments to the boards of executive bodies that are funded by the Welsh government fell from 38% in 2009 to 35% in April 2012.

For NHS bodies including the patients' watchdog the Community Health Councils, the percentage of women appointed fell from 48% to 47%.

'Passionately enthusiastic'

The Welsh government has a commitment to seek to introduce a 40% quota for women on public sector boards, inspired by Norway, which has the same quota for company boards.

The Welsh government says it is considering options on how to achieve the 40% target.

Prof McAllister said she welcomed the Welsh government's commitment.

"The issue of quotas is an important one to keep on the agenda," she told BBC Wales' Sunday Politics.

"Nobody feel passionately enthusiastic about quotas because they are seen to be a sign of failure of the natural process.

"But all the evidence suggests that if we're serious about proper gender equality then without the leadership we've shown in Sport Wales to get women on the board - and that won't be paralleled across the whole public sector - then quotas are something that have to be considered."

The Welsh assembly's presiding officer Rosemary Butler has recently urged political party leaders to make sure more women are elected.

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