A comprehensive “support and learning network” is needed if women are to gain equality in the workplace in the most senior positions.

That is according to Tracey Rogers, managing director of Unilever Food Solutions UK & Ireland, who, speaking to HR Magazine, said that without such a network, women in the boardroom risk becoming “surrogate men” and adopting the same management style that has previously prevented greater diversity and equality in senior positions.

In order for real change to come about, therefore, there must be a number of women in top roles simultaneously, who can lend support to one another, she claimed.

“Balance is important; the odd successful woman here and there is far from ideal and generates its own problems,” said Ms Rogers.

“I firmly believe that women in senior positions need other women in senior positions, in order to create a support and learning network.

“Without this, they will learn and adopt their leadership behaviours from the men that surround them. As a result, to all intents and purposes, they may become surrogate men.”

Her comments come ahead of an announcement by Viviane Reding, European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, tomorrow (October 23rd) in which she is expected to unveil plans for mandatory quotas for women in the boardroom.

Ms Rogers told the magazine that while most women do not want legislation in this area, they are becoming frustrated at the slow pace of change.

She believes that part of the reason for this lack of progress is that many men in senior positions are unaware of how their decisions may be preventing greater gender equality.

“For example, a male manager looking to promote a man may say: ‘Chuck him in at the deep end and let’s see if he sinks or swims.’

“The same manager may say of a female candidate: ‘Is she ready yet? We don’t want to set her up to fail.’

“Words said with the best of intentions, without any malevolence – and, arguably, stated by a well-mannered man – but the impact on the progression of the two careers is clear.”