The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on the private sector to do more to promote women to executive roles, claiming insufficient action has been taken to boost equality of opportunity.

According to research commissioned by the Independent on Sunday and carried out by database firm Blue Sheep, 70 per cent of directors at more than 619,000 small firms were men, as opposed to 25 per cent female and five per cent unclear.

"We need to look at things like developing female mentors to help women start businesses and women-only networks," an FSB spokesman told the newspaper, ahead of the impending publication of the group's own study on the issue.

The representative added that entrepreneurship among women remains a largely "untapped" resource and pointed out the Ascent Fund, launched in 2008, has so far only provided £2 million of the promised £12.5 million to seven companies.

Last month, figures from the Office for National Statistics indicated that the gender pay gap had narrowed somewhat over the last year, with women aged 22 and 29 actually earning more than their male counterparts.

Posted by Ross George