Women's career chances are still being blighted by employers' failure to adopt more flexible working practices and recognise their responsibilities away from the workplace, according to a new report.
Sex and power: who runs Britain? 2005 published by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) argues that a need for a total overhaul of family policies is essential if Britain is to stop losing out on women's talent.
The report calls on the government and political parties to develop a national family strategy to replace the current piecemeal approach to childcare and family support.
The report also suggests that British public life remains firmly locked in the past and unrepresentative of society. Women's position in business, the police and senior legal posts improved by only a marginal one per cent during the last 12 months, it calculates.
According to Jenny Watson, Deputy Chair of the EOC: "There are plenty of talented women in business, politics and other areas of public life. Women now make up over half the workforce and the proportion is growing . Yet our decision makers remain overwhelmingly male. We can no longer assume that it's only a matter of time before more women make it to the top.”
Ignoring the potential contribution that women can make will cost Britain dear in terms of productivity, she added.
The EOC points out that Britain is lagging behind other European countries in terms of the numbers of women getting to the top in politics.
The UK comes 14th out of the EU member states for female representation in its national parliament. While almost half (45 per cent) of Sweden's parliament is made up of women in the UK the figure is just 18 per cent. More than half (52 per cent) of Sweden's Cabinet members are female compared to only a quarter (27 per cent) in the UK.
The report also provides evidence that women pay a big penalty for being seen as the principal home maker and child carer.
Around one in five women face dismissal or financial loss as a result of a pregnancy. One third of women of mothers, more than one in ten fathers and nearly one in five people with another unpaid caring role have given up or turned down a job because of their caring responsibilities.
"The key to getting more women to the top is by tackling the underlying assumptions which put women with children on the 'Mummy track'," Jenny Watson added.
"But there are signs that things are changing with more employers recognising the need to provide employment flexibility and judge staff on what they achieve, not on the hours that they work."