Women face discrimination from the very start of their careers, preventing them from ever reaching a perceived glass ceiling, a leading employment consultancy has said.
The news comes just days after the government published its long-awaited Equality Bill which aims to reduce gender discrimination by forcing organisations to publish their gender pay gaps by 2013, if they have not already done so voluntarily.
The Holding Women Back report by consultancy DDI, which surveyed more than 10,000 business leaders worldwide, found women are routinely missing out on specialist training and development opportunities from the early stages of their career, which reduces their chances of promotion.
At the first level of management there are 28% more men than women receiving specialist development through high potential groups or talent pools. At executive level, this rises to 50% more men - only 7% of women ever reach executive level.
The report added that many women would not be aware they were facing discrimination because selection processes tended to be shrouded in secrecy. Mary-Rose Lines, a senior consultant at DDI, said: "The benefits of diversity at all levels of leadership are clear and well-documented, so to find that women are being held back by 'invisible discrimination' is both disappointing and worrying.
"The study shows that even in industries or businesses rich with talented women, there is still a disproportionate number of men in the most senior executive roles, proving that even with numbers on their side, there is no protection."