Women still hold only a tiny proportion of the most senior positions in UK
public life, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has claimed.
A new report by the equality body shows that women hold as little as 10 per
cent of senior posts in some areas of the public sector.
Julie Mellor, the EOC’s chair, said the findings raised serious questions
about the ability of decision-makers to identify with the public they are
supposed to represent.
"Excluding women from senior positions means business, government and
public services are not only missing out on talent, but are also relying on a
narrow range of experiences to make decisions that affect all our lives,"
The survey, Women and Power: Who Runs Britain?, shows that women make up
just 7 per cent of the senior judiciary, 7 per cent of senior police personnel,
9 per cent of business leaders and 9 per cent of national newspaper editors.
"Institutions need to examine their recruitment and selection
procedures to check they are rigorous, fair and transparent. There’s no place
for an old boy network in modern Britain," Mellor added.
The findings stand in contrast with the situation across the rest of the
workforce as a whole where 45 per cent of staff are female and around a third
of managers are women.
However, the findings did show some improvements, with women making up 23
per cent of the top managers in the Civil Service and 36 per cent of public
Emma Lochhead, director of HR at government communications agency COI, said
the problem was acute, although progress was being made.
"There needs to be a better understanding of the challenges facing women
with families. Things like subsidised childcare and flexible working practices
need to be more widely taken up, and not just at junior levels. We need to
raise awareness of career paths in public life," she said.
Views from the women on top
Julie Mellor, chair, EOC
"Almost 30 years since the Sex Discrimination Act was
passed, women are still massively under-represented in positions of influence
in the UK. No one can argue anymore that it’s just a matter of time until more
women make it to the top. The EOC is laying down a challenge to leaders in
every sector to make 2004 the year they dismantle the barriers to women’s
Mandy Coalter, head of HR, Doncaster Council
"I think there are still some major barriers preventing
women from entering top management. Juggling work and family life is very
difficult and many women feel they have to choose between the two. There are
still some very outdated attitudes and organisational barriers facing women.
In South Yorkshire, we’ve been running workshops to help women
gain confidence and move into roles such as school governor."
Ruth Spellman, chief executive, Investors in People
"Many women see public positions as very political. The
perception is that they require long hours and aren’t family friendly.
Appointment boards seem to have fixed views on how these jobs should be done.
Overall, there are still barriers to women, and there’s the
perception that women are less serious about work and won’t have the same
gravitas in the boardroom. However, women are now challenging men on their own
territory, but it’s still a competition run by men’s rules."
Jane King, editor, Personnel Today
"Many women aspire to reach the top but become disengaged
by inflexible employers, often led by inflexible, unimaginative men. It’s easy
to see why they become frustrated and demotivated by years of bad employment
and management practices. Too many boardrooms are failing to apply fair and
appropriate people policies. Women do outperform men in many sectors yet they are
not promoted in proportion to their performance. Attitudes among male
colleagues need to be challenged and recruitment and retention policies should
be more progressive."
Mary Mallett, president, Society
of Personnel Officers
"There’s no single, easy answer, but there are a range of
problems. Men and women do business differently, and while there are so many
men in senior positions, women often fail to see the attraction.
"Lots of women also seem to underestimate their own
ability and select themselves out of jobs."
Rita Donaghy, chair of conciliation body Acas
"I think women often have to be 100 per cent sure they can
do a job before applying, whereas men will apply just to get the job. We’re
talking about some of the same issues as we were 30 years ago and I don’t think
things have hugely improved. I suppose it’s gone from dreadful to not quite as