Sarah Boseley, health editor
Professional women who want to reach the top are encountering not so much a glass ceiling as one made of reinforced concrete, the Equality and Human Rights Commission says today.
The fifth annual Sex and Power report shows a drop in the number of women attaining the top jobs in Britain. They hold just 11% of FTSE 100 directorships and account for only 19.3% of MPs.
Most worrying this year, says the commission, is that progress seems to have stalled in some areas and gone into reverse in others. In 12 of the 25 job categories monitored in the annual reports, fewer women held top posts in 2007 than in the year before, and in another five categories the percentage of women was unchanged.
There were fewer women MPs, and fewer women cabinet members (down from 34.8% to 26.1%), health service and local authority chief executives, senior police officers and judges and heads of professional bodies. Last year there was no increase in the percentage of women MEPs, top media bosses, directors of leading museums and galleries, chairs of national arts companies and holders of senior ranks in the armed forces.
In eight areas, women's representation has increased, including the House of Lords, FTSE 100 company directors (10.4% to 11%), local authority council leaders and university vice-chancellors….
The report puts much of the blame on "our rigid, inflexible approach to work". Having children, outdated working practices, a long-hours culture and the absence of good-quality, affordable childcare, together with the expectation that women will look after the family and run the house, leads many women to decide the strain is too much. They take a less challenging role or leave employment altogether. The same inflexibility also prevents men from spending more time with their children, although many want to. Sarah Williams-Gardner, campaigns director of Business in the Community, said women were still coming up against emotional and physical barriers within corporate culture. "They are still using the same rules of the game that they have done for many, many years – a nine to five culture designed for men," she said….