Women still struggling with gender barrier at work

Women still struggle to reach the top, according to latest survey

Women occupy just 34 of the 970 executive director positions at companies in the FTSE 350 index, according to a survey by the Co-operative Asset Management.

The research commissioned by the Observer shows that 90% of top firms have an equality policy – but only 3% of them have a woman as chief executive.

When it comes to non-executive director posts – which do not involve any management power – woman fare slightly better, but still occupy only 204 of the 1,772 jobs available.

In the most senior positions of all, women‘s representation is stuck in the single digits. Leaders such as Baroness Sarah Hogg, chair of venture capitalist 3i, and Dame Marjorie Scardino, chief executive of media group Pearson, remain in a tiny minority.

No fewer than 132 of the companies surveyed, including Barclays Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland, are men-only zones, without a single woman at board level.

Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons and minister for women and equalities, said: ‘This is a very important piece of research. It shows how important it is for companies to have accountability on gender. A company in the grip of the old-boy network is never going to be successful in the modern world. It is backward-looking and old-fashioned.’

The Co-operative study identified a ‘pinch point’ for women – the level of senior positions at which their numbers begin to thin out. The researchers found that this ‘pinch point’ frequently coincides with flexible working becoming less available.

Trish Lawrence of lobby group Opportunity Now said: ‘The majority of workplaces are designed around a mid-20th-century lifestyle, with an outdated approach to where, when and how work happens. Flexibility… should be a business imperative.

‘The lack of women in senior positions may be attributed to the fact that women are much more likely than men to take a career break, and even more likely to take responsibility for child and elder care. We need to ‘normalise’ flexible working arrangements, encouraging more men to take advantage of these arrangements and sharing the caring responsibilities, while also enhancing their work-life balance.’

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