No boardroom equality for 73 years

Apparently it will be 73 years before men and women are equally represented at UK plc's top table...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

That’s the conclusion of ‘Sex and Power’, a rather gloomy new Equality and Human Rights Commission study of women in high places. The EHRC reckons that across the board, progress towards greater equality has stalled in the last year – or at best, slowed to a snail’s pace. And although the proportion of female FTSE 100 directors has inched up slightly in the last 12 months, the Commission has calculated that at the current rate of progress, said snail could do 1.5 crawls between Lands’ End and John O’Groats in the time it will take women to achieve equal representation…

The study, which is in its fifth year, found that the number of women in top jobs had fallen in nearly half of the 25 categories it looked at. Believe it or not, business was actually one of the better ones: the proportion of female FTSE 100 directors rose from 10.4% to 11% - slow progress admittedly (slower than last year in fact), but progress nonetheless. In some cases, things seem to be getting worse rather than better: in Westminster, for example, the proportion of female MPs is now just 19.3%, which means that our metaphorical snail would almost be able to slime its way along the entire Great Wall of China before we achieve proper equality (although this would involve the snail living 200 years, which sounds a bit unlikely).

According to the EHRC, if women ever do get to hold half of the UK’s top 31,000 jobs, it would mean an extra 5,700 women rising to the top – rather than continually bashing their heads on a glass ceiling. ‘Young women's aspiration is in danger of giving way to frustration,’ says EHRC boss Nicola Brewer. ‘Many of them are keen to balance a family with a rewarding career. But workplaces forged in an era of 'stay at home mums' and 'breadwinner dads' are putting too many barriers in the way.’ So in other words, ‘glass ceiling’ doesn’t even cover it. ‘These figures reveal that in some cases it appears to be made of reinforced concrete,’ she says.

Brewer also insists this isn’t just a ‘women issue’- she thinks it’s actually symptomatic of a broader problem. ‘The report asks in what other ways old-fashioned, inflexible ways of working are preventing Britain from tapping into talent - whether that of women or other under-represented groups. Britain cannot afford to go on marginalising or rejecting talented people who fail to fit into traditional work patterns.’ One thing’s for sure: if we can’t get that snail moving a bit faster, most of us won’t be around to see the day when women are fully represented in the boardroom.

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