Women are still massively under-represented in positions of influence in business, the media and judiciary in the UK, according to a new report by the Equal Opportunities Commission, even though more women are working than ever before.
Sex and power: who runs Britain? found that fewer than 10 per cent of the most senior jobs in public life are held by women. They make up just seven per cent of the senior judiciary, seven per cent of senior police officers, nine per cent of top business leaders and nine per cent of national newspaper editors.
This is despite the fact that women account for 45 per cent of the workforce and 30 per cent of managers.
However the report suggest that progress has been made in some areas. Women now account for 23 per cent of the Civil Service top management, 36 per cent of public appointments and 18 per cent of MPs.
Julie Mellor, Chair of the EOC, said the findings raised serious questions about the ability of the decision makers who run Britain to identify with the concerns of the general public because public, political and business life in Britain is "massively unrepresentative" of society.
"Almost 30 years since the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, women are still massively under-represented in positions of influence in Britain," she said.
"No one can argue anymore that it's just a matter of time until more women make it to the top - there have been talented women coming up in business, public life and politics for years.
"Recent media commentary on the honours system has also highlighted the low numbers of women to receive senior honours. This reflects a wider problem that won't be resolved until Britain's leaders act to make sure women are not prevented from getting to the top."
The report claims that most organisations have the same kind of people in charge and that most of these are men. "Open the door of any boardroom or council chamber and the chances are that most people around the table will be men," it says. "It's not democratic, it's not balanced and it's not good for business."
At the same time, the EOC says that The EOC research found that women are delaying having children while men are spending more time with their families.
However the UK's long hours culture and inflexible in working patterns often prevent women from reaching the top of their professions. Women who care for children or relatives or who want to work part-time are too often perceived to have abandoned all hope of career advancement.
"Women are still often prevented from getting to the top because they take on more caring responsibilities than men,” Said Julie Mellor. “Until every organisation accepts that they can't capitalise on the talent available without taking account of people's caring roles the profile of the people who run Britain will not change.
"Institutions also need to examine their recruitment and selection procedures to check that they are rigorous, fair and transparent. There's no place for an old boys' network in modern Britain."
Mellor added that the EOC is laying down a challenge to leaders in every sector to make 2004 the year they take decisive action to dismantle the barriers to women's progress.
Simply by promoting flexible working and employing positive action where women are under-represented, it is entirely possible to combine a senior position with a caring role. “It is not rocket science,” the report says.