The Scottish Parliament has approved the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill in principle after a stage one debate.
The bill sets an objective for public boards that 50% of their non-executive members are women. It also requires steps to be taken to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members of public boards.
Evidence shows that diversity leads to better decision making and ultimately, better performance.
Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said: “At its heart this bill is equality for women. It is about this Parliament using the powers that it has to deliver a fairer, more equal Scotland.
“Women’s voices need to be heard, and they need to shape the decisions that are made in Scotland’s boardrooms and impact on our services. Scotland’s public bodies, colleges and universities are responsible for significant sums of public money and oversee and deliver public services which touch on all aspects of people’s lives.
“It’s also really important that we continue our focus on encouraging women to apply for these positions in the first place. We have made much progress increasing the numbers of women on public boards from 35% in 2007 to 45% today. But we cannot be complacent and this legislation will ensure we cannot stall or regress that progress.
“Positive action and appointing on merit are not mutually exclusive. The primary objective here is still to make sure we are attracting the most diverse, talented people to Scotland’s public boards
“If passed, this bill will make Scotland the only country in the United Kingdom with a statutory gender representation objective for public boards – but we are one of many international examples. This is an important step on our journey towards gender equality in Scotland.”