3 female leaders breaking the bias in Scottish businesses


This International Women’s Day, there’s a strong focus on eliminating everyday gender biases. #BreakTheBias is designed to stop inherent biases in workplaces, educational institutions, and everyday life that affect women.

Written by Natasha Bougourd, Copywriter at Heriot-Watt

One common bias we see is towards men in leadership roles in business. While female representation is increasing, none of the FTSE 100 companies in Scotland have female CEOs and only four percent of leading businesses do. It’s clear that we need to break down biases in business – but there are still plenty of role models out there.

Here, we look at three businesswomen in Scotland who are paving the way for future female leaders and breaking the bias at the highest levels of business.

Edel Harris OBE – CEO at Mencap

Edel Harris OBE was appointed as Mencap CEO in January 2020 following a successful stint as CEO at Cornerstone. Edel has had a varied career during her rise to the top, including time as a Metropolitan police officer and a director at Aberdeen Football Club Community Trust. Edel achieved a First Class Honours degree in Health and Social Care, worked at NHS Grampian for eight years, and has held senior roles at multiple not-for-profit organisations. With her experience, she brings an unrivalled wealth of expertise to the charity dedicated to giving people with learning disabilities equal opportunities.

The charity CEO is passionate about using her position to help others, saying: “I want to use the talents I’ve been given and the opportunities I’ve been given in my career to really try and change the system, to make the UK the best place to live if you have a learning disability.”

in May 2021, Edel was awarded an Order of the British Embassy (OBE) in recognition of her services to charity and the public sector. Edel’s work during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic meant support services were still delivered to thousands of people with learning disabilities. She aims to use this recognition to increase the profile of the learning disability sector and its vital work.

Jen Paice – Managing Director at Waverton Wealth

Jen Paice is living proof that you don’t have to have your career mapped out at a young age. After studying physiotherapy, Jen switched gears and worked her way into management from a sales graduate role. She then moved to New York to become Vice President of Scottish Development International, flying the flag for Scotland’s financial services sector.

The businesswoman is well-known for her time as the first CEO of SafeDeposits, taking it from a newcomer in the sector to a company with 60% of the market share within a few years. Through this work, Jen won IoD Director of the Year – Third Sector. Jen’s commitment to the charity sector also saw her take on the role of Chairperson at One Parent Families Scotland for a number of years. As a single parent, the charity’s work resonated with her.

Jen was brought in as Managing Director at Waverton Wealth, formerly Cornerstone Asset Management, to bring a client-centric focus to a company. The business had grown rapidly but had concerns over the risk of leaving some of its customers behind. She said her appointment “would focus the various teams on being client-centric and how they could do things differently and be more innovative.”

“That includes digitising the workload while recognising that some clients, particularly older clients, are either uncomfortable with or unwilling to make the change. We cannot leave them behind. We have to be mindful that being seen as ‘modern’ does not tick everyone’s box.”

Audrey Carlin – CEO of Wasp Studios

Audrey Carlin is the CEO of Wasp Studios, a charity that provides affordable spaces to creatives and artists. Audrey’s degree in Town and Regional Planning set her on her career path, where she started as a planning officer at Glasgow City Council. She progressed into management roles with Clydebank Urban Regeneration Company and Clyde Gateway, before joining Wasp Studios as a senior executive director and finally progressing to CEO.

Audrey’s degree allowed her to make a difference in an area she’s passionate about. Through her extensive experience in town planning and management, she was able to reach the upper echelons of a business that is dedicated to offering these spaces to the vibrant community of artists that thrives in Scotland.

What can we learn from these female leaders?

Edel, Audrey, and Jen are living proof that women can make it into senior business roles. Not only do they deserve their place there, but they’ve also shown that there’s no single right way to do it. Each of these women studied for a degree at university, but Jen ended up going in a completely different direction after graduation.

Whether you study a business management degree because your goal is to be a business leader or entrepreneur, or you study in the sector you’re keen to progress in, a degree can really set you apart in the business world. But it’s also important to approach your work with passion and have a clear idea of the path you’d like to take. In reality, it might not pan out in the exact way you imagined it, but it’ll help you make strategic career moves.

And lastly, it helps to have female role models to motivate you!