Alison is a Council Board member of the Scottish Funding Council for Higher and Further Education.
Ali is a freelance consultant and coach specialising in leadership, strategic change management and equality with organisations in the public, private and non-profit sectors. She is also an independent assessor for the Office of the Commissioner for Public appointments (OCPAS) in Scotland. Until Autumn 2007 Ali was Director of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). Before joining the CRE, Ali was Director of Stonewall in Scotland working on legal equality and social justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Ali was directly engaged with the process of developing the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission in the 4 years leading up to its opening in 2007 and has been involved in many other cross-Equalities Groups and initiatives in the UK and internationally to ensure that joined up approaches are used to advance a fairer society. Prior to 2000 Ali spent 12 years in the private sector holding senior management positions in marketing, human resources and strategy for a number of large multi-national companies focusing on organisational change management, leadership and diversity.
1. What attracted you to apply for your current board position?
I strongly believe that higher and further education through skills and knowledge development make a major contribution to the social, economic, and cultural success of a nation. As such I felt that the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) was a place where by getting involved at a governance level I would be able to have measurable impact. When I saw that the current skills review of Board membership had identified an opening for an equalities specialist I realized I could not only meet those specific criteria but could also add further value through the strategic and organizational skillsets I had developed in other roles. I was also at a personal career point where having been self-employed for a while I felt better able to explore a ‘portfolio approach’ to my working life. It was the right role at the right time.
2. Did your career path lead to your current board role, for example by providing you with specific sector experience relevant to the board?
No – all of my contributions to the Board are in the realms of broad transferable skills and competences.
3. What do you get out of board membership?
* Enormous intellectual challenge and stimulation
* Vast learning in relation to new contexts where I have to quickly get up to speed
* The chance to apply my particular expertise in a way that impacts upon many individuals and organisations across Scotland
* The knowledge that I play a part in taking important decisions that make a real difference at a national level
* The ability to see how many different policy areas interact
* The chance to get involved in effecting change rather than being in the position of many people I know who comment intelligently on what they read in the papers but don’t have a sense of personal responsibility or engagement
* Transferable skills of discipline in relation to working in a highly sensitive statutory environment
* A lot of unforeseen hours of work, quite a few late nights and some knotty dilemmas to grapple with
4. Should the Scottish Government be encouraging more women to apply for positions on the boards of NDPBs? If so, how?
Yes in order to harness a wide variety of approaches, experiences, attitudes and skills that are more likely to be found across a greater diversity of the population than that which is currently represented in the public appointments system. In terms of how to do it ? – the Diversity Delivers strategy offers a range of practical approaches but so much of it does remain in the mindsets of Ministers, sponsor teams and some people who hold Board positions who may still hold particular perceptions about what makes a ‘good’ Board or Board member. These can tend to favour ‘traditional’ males roles and career paths
5. Do you speak to other women about opportunities or positions on the boards of NDPBs, either to encourage them to apply or simply to hear their views of the application or appointments process?
Yes. I use my personal contacts extensively to encourage participation and formally / informally mentor a number of individuals at different stages of their own personal journey towards (or away from ) the world of public appointments.
6. Are there barriers to women who wish to sit on a board?
I genuinely believe there are fewer environmental and attitudinal barriers than there might once have been so we’re definitely going in the right direction. The figures and individual experiences show there is still some way to go however. In no particular order some of the barriers I perceive are;
* The actual time commitment – many public appointments take far longer than the reality of the advertised commitment. For many people who work full time, have caring roles or are not self-employed this poses a real practical problem. Obviously this applies both to men and women but women may have less flexibility in these areas
* As generalisations, Women still tend to ‘under-sell’ their expertise and transferable skills and men still tend to over-rely on ‘status’ job titles as a clear mark of their worth
* The nature of some of the highly-politicised public environments still feels very ‘male’. Many women can and do perform well nonetheless in such environments but I believe it requires an additional level of personal self-confidence and drive that in itself is then more likely to get stereotyped as being over-assertive in a woman when quite expected in a man.
* Linked to this, some of the more politicized environments can promote a certain type of ‘gamesmanship’ which for whatever reason I personally sense more men than women seem to enjoy.
* You have to be happy to work as a minority in many environments until the balance of representation / participation changes. The Board I serve on is incredibly egalitarian in terms of gender attitudes and I have never once felt that being a woman is problematic. However I have been in numerous meetings, committees and even a formal dinner with a Minister and his aides (the latter a total of 14 diners) where I am the only woman in the room.