UK glass ceiling shows few signs of shattering

Sep 04 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

There is still a long, long way to go before men and women are equally represented in the boardroom in Britain, according to latest figures from equality watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The commission's annual Sex and Power study has calculated that women hold just 11 per cent of FTSE-100 directorships and not even a fifth of seats in Parliament.

In some areas, representation has slipped back since last year, with women now holding fewer top posts in 12 of the 25 categories surveyed by the commission.

In another five categories the figure was unchanged, while representation had increased in just eight areas compared with the commission's study last year.

At the current rate of progress it would take women 55 years to achieve parity in the judiciary and 73 years to be equally represented in the boardroom, eight years longer than in last year's survey, it argued.

And, for women to achieve equal representation within the UK's 31,000 top

positions of power, more than 5,600 "missing" women would need to rise through the ranks to positions of real influence, it estimated.

Equality was often dismissed as a "women's issue", the commission pointed out, but the failure to encourage and keep more women at high levels of business and society was in fact a powerful symptom of a wider failure.

Old-fashioned, inflexible ways of working were preventing Britain from tapping into all its talent, whether this was the talents of women or other under-represented groups such as disabled people, ethnic minorities or those with caring responsibilities.

Britain, it argued, could not afford to continue marginalising or rejecting people who simply failed to fit into traditional work patterns.

"We always speak of a glass ceiling. These figures reveal that in some cases it appears to be made of reinforced concrete. We need radical change to support those who are doing great work and help those who want to work better and release talent," said commission chief executive Nicola Brewer.

"Workplaces forged in an era of 'stay at home mums' and 'breadwinner dads' are putting too many barriers in the way Ė resulting in an avoidable loss of talent at the top," she added.

The commission's study echoes research by the European Professional Women's Network in December last year that concluded women accounted for fewer than a tenth of board-level positions.

It would take women almost 60 years to bridge the divide unless big changes are made, it calculated.

And a study by U.S website in August concluded that jobs for the boys, pay inequality and twin-track, gender-based promotions were all alive and well in American, despite most employers having introduced equality programmes.