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UK missing 5,400 women in top jobs - equality commission

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 19 Aug 2011 17:47 GMT
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NEW YORK, Aug 18 (TrustLaw) - In Britain women outnumber men, outperform them in education, and enter management ranks at an equal rate, yet some 5,400 women are missing from the upper echelons of the country’s workforce, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Britain's guardian of equality and non-discrimination laws, said in a new report.

The commission’s Sex and Power 2011 report, a follow-up to its 2008 report, reviews the number of women holding substantial positions of power across 27 job categories in the private and public sectors – including in the judiciary, national sports bodies, the police force and trade unions.

While women have made some progress since the 2008 study, the commission has called it “tortuously slow.” At this rate of change, the commission calculates, it will take 70 years before there is gender parity among directors of companies ranked in the FTSE 100 index of Britain’s leading shares, or among members of parliament.

 “In the early days, things seemed to be getting better. More and more women were coming into the legal profession and ‘first women’ were being appointed to more and more positions,” Baroness Hale, justice of the Supreme Court and president of both the International Association of Women Judges and the UK Association of Women Judges, told the commission.

“Nowadays, however, not enough women are rising to the top and I am back to being in a small minority.”

KEY FINDINGS

According to the study, between 2008 and 2011 women had their best representation in politics and in the public sector, accounting for 26 percent of positions in these areas. Over the same period, in media and culture they averaged 15 percent of the top positions and in business a mere 10 percent.

Women have made small progress in some positions, including an increase in female directors of companies in the FTSE 100 and in the FTSE 250 share index of medium-sized companies. But the commission reported drops in participation levels in 10 areas including members of cabinet, local authority council leaders, public appointments, editors of national newspapers, chairs of national arts bodies, and health service chief executives.

Women have mostly made their gains in "top jobs" in the public and voluntary sectors. The commission attributes this trend to the tendency of these positions to have more flexible working hours and family-friendly policies, making it easier for women to find a balance between their work and home lives.

SLOW CHANGE

Family obligations remain a top concern for women. And powerful jobs traditionally come with inflexible and demanding schedules that can impinge on family time.

“The prejudices towards working women are real, and by that I mean not only among employers but among other women who question your commitment to being a mother if you work,” said Linda Lee, president of the UK’s Law Society.

A 2008 study of the female managing directors of London’s top investment banks reported that almost half had no children, and a quarter of those with children had a partner who was the primary caregiver. 

Women who go part-time or take time out from working when they have children often fall behind those who do not. This may be one reason why women are moving to self-employment at a much higher rate than they are moving into senior management roles, according to a 2009 study, Women Entrepreneurs in the International Small Business Journal

BAD FOR WOMEN, BAD FOR THE ECONOMY

The absence of women in positions of power is bad for British companies and, ultimately, bad for the economy, the commission says.

As the European Commission said in its 2010 More Women in Senior Positions report, companies with the most women in senior positions performed the best financially. Still, the UK comes in behind the rest of Europe in terms of women’s inclusion on corporate boards.

Denying women from reaching top positions provides a “poor return” on the investment made in their education, warns the commission.

“If Britain is to stage a strong recovery from its current economic situation, then we have to make sure we’re not wasting women’s skills and talents,” Commissioner Kay Carberry says.

The Women and Work Commission estimates that Britain’s unutilised female talent is worth £15 billion or more. 

A WAY FORWARD 

For Sam Smith, chief executive of broker finnCap, and the youngest and only female chief executive in the City of London’s investment banking community, for more women to reach top positions, flexible working is “crucial as is a tax system that makes it easy to have child care that encourages return to work and makes it affordable.”

This would not only positively affect women, a 2009 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed. The report found fathers increasingly show a desire to spend less time at work and more time with their families.

Furthermore, Caroline Gipps, vice chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton, believes that senior-level men, not just women, should mentor younger women.

“We also need to encourage younger women to be mentored by men, and for them to engage much more with men as they move through the career structure,” Gipps said.

In the commission’s eyes, if women are to gain more ground among Britain’s top jobs then both structural and attitudinal barriers to their participation must be challenged.

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