Listen to this article
Mr M has taken up yoga. Not just any old yoga but Bikram yoga, which, as far as I can see, is yoga in a sauna. He is very upset that the Cost Centres and I are amazed and amused by this. Why are we so amazed and amused? Because if you had asked me to identify the most unlikely words ever to pass Mr M’s lips, then I would have put “I am off to a Bikram yoga class” right up there, in second place only to “I don’t care who wins the Ashes.”
Mr M is even whiling away some of his time here in Edinburgh by joining a Bikram class in the city. And it’s packed, he said. I thought I detected a hint of defiance in his tone, so I asked him how many other men were putting themselves through this torture. Plenty, he retorted: the ratio of men to women is a respectable 40:60.
The ratio of men to women – and its converse – is something with which I’m inordinately preoccupied. As people who know me are very aware, I continue to bang the drum about the pitiable number of women on boards when there are so many talented females out there. That’s why there’s absolutely no need for quotas.
Since being here for the Fringe, I have been delighted to read that Sue Bruce, chief executive of Edinburgh City Council, has been named as a non-executive director by the energy provider SSE. What an excellent appointment, I thought – not only does it bring another woman on to a FTSE 100 board, it also brings someone with a public sector background. Both groups are minorities on FTSE 100 boards.
So I was shocked to read in the Scottish press headlines such as “Sue Bruce under fire”, reporting the negative reaction of Unison, the city council’s largest union. “It’s not a good message that the chief executive has enough time to take on a second job,” its branch president was reported as saying. This smacks of politicising to me. Bruce was selected on merit, over others. Moreover, she has stated that she will carry out this role in her spare time, has booked holidays, within her allowance, to attend board meetings and is donating her fee to charity and causes that benefit Edinburgh. The chairman of SSE said he would be getting the expertise of someone who leads an organisation serving hundreds of thousands of people, one that makes huge capital investments. Indeed. It is a great appointment and very far-sighted of him. Edinburgh, you should be thrilled that you have such women serving in local government.
Yet, sadly, this attack on Scottish public sector women getting NED positions is not limited to Bruce. Last year, Lena Wilson, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, was appointed a NED on the board of the safety services company Intertek. It was reported at the time that the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats had called for an inquiry and complained that, a time when businesses were struggling to stay afloat, it was insensitive for Wilson to be adding to her income by taking on paid NED duties.
But when I see appointments such as Bruce’s and Wilson’s, I want to celebrate. Not least because they are being made without the requirement of quotas. Right now the EU is trying to use the snappily titled Capital Requirements Directive IV to get quotas in via the back door – this must be resisted at all costs. Women should always be appointed on merit, like Bruce and Wilson; quotas can only do women harm in the workplace, at all levels.
More women on boards is the way of the future, and gives younger women something to aspire to. Both SSE and Edinburgh City Council will benefit from Bruce’s appointment, and it is a great boost for Scots women in general. It’s a shame that not everyone in Edinburgh realises that they are living and working in a 21st-century city. Let alone one that offers numerous places to do Bikram yoga.
Mrs Moneypenny will be at the Assembly Rooms in George Street: ‘Mrs Moneypenny’s Money Clinic Live’, 12.30pm August 24.
Get alerts on FT Magazine when a new story is published