• Thomson Reuters Foundation


Equality for women at work is decades away in Britain, according to a study released Monday that found just 6 percent of chief executives at leading companies are female, with representation in some sectors going backwards.

Men still dominate positions of power across politics, the law, media, sports and other key sectors, according to the study by the women’s rights group Fawcett Society, with women from ethnic minority backgrounds particularly underrepresented.

“Despite much lip service about the importance of having women in top jobs, today’s data shows we are still generations away from achieving anything close to equality,” said Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society. “We are wasting women’s talent and skills.”

Despite laws guaranteeing equal pay and rights, women remain a minority in senior positions at companies and in public life, while official data showed those in full-time work faced an average gender pay gap of 8.9 percent last year.

Women make up just 6 percent of CEOs among the FTSE leading 100 companies, less than a quarter of newspaper editors and just over a third of elected lawmakers in the lower house of Parliament, the new index found.

They are also in a minority across a host of other senior roles, including senior civil service members, high court judges and university vice chancellors.

Women from ethnic minority backgrounds were even more underrepresented. They are “simply missing” from senior roles in many areas, the report said.

Progress toward equality is often slow, the group found, and representation has slipped backward in some areas, including the senior civil service and leadership of governing sports bodies.

It called for action, including quotas, to achieve female representation in public bodies and boards of large corporate firms, and requirements for companies to publish action plans on recruiting more women and ethnic minorities.

The data suggest that “nothing is changing” at many organizations, said Allyson Zimmermann from the female leadership nonprofit Catalyst, though she said change is possible without bringing in quotas and regulation.

“Diversity is a success driver when it is done well,” she said. “It cannot be siloed off into a ‘nice to have’ and one hour at the annual conference — it has got to be embedded in the business.”

A separate study last week found that highlighting women’s achievements can make them more likely to want leadership roles.

Women were less likely to want to be a boss in male-dominated groups, the research, published in the journal The Leadership Quarterly, showed, but publicly acknowledging their abilities and achievements could encourage them to step up.