It has been a dismal week for women in the workplace. A study revealed that more than 5,400 women are “missing” from Britain’s 26,000 most powerful posts, according to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The Sex & Power 2011 survey measured the number of women in positions of power and influence across 27 occupational categories in both public and private sectors since 2008. It concludes that although more women than ever are graduating from university, with a high number gaining better degrees then men, not to mention the vast number of women entering law, accountancy and medicine, they are still not taking up management roles at the same rate as their male counterparts.
Although women now represent 22.2% of MPs, which is up from 19.3% in 2008, only 17.4% of the coalition’s cabinet are women, a decrease of 26.1%. In better news, more women are now directors at FTSE companies, but there are fewer female national newspaper editors than three years ago. The number of female teachers, head teachers and university vice chancellors have gone down too, but there are gains in the public and voluntary sector, where women represent 12.9% of senior members of the judiciary, up from 9.6%.
Kay Carberry of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s expressed her disappointment in the report’s findings: “We had hoped to see an increase in the number of women in positions of power, however this isn’t happening.” Justification for the absent women has been put down to part-time working, inflexible organisations and outdated working patterns.
Although the report suggests that the glass ceiling is still very much a problem for women, Heather McGregor of the 30% Club – a group committed to bringing more women on to corporate boards in the UK – does not believe this is the case: “It’s not a glass ceiling stopping women from getting to the top, but the fact that they are less likely to build networks, focus on their career priorities, and spend a substantial proportion of their time on their own PR. How will you ever be picked for a good job if no one knows about you?”
In Monday’s Guardian, Madeleine Bunting admitted that her generation has “failed to break through” into those positions of power, but also highlighted her peers’ achievements over the past 25 years, namely the part-time working arrangements that make motherhood alongside a high-flying career an option. “We’re delighted to see others forging ahead and crashing through the prejudices,” she wrote, “but we shiver at the price it might exact in our own lives.”
Equally a cause for concern are the latest unemployment figures, also out this week. Of the 38,000 increase in people out of work over the last quarter, 21,000 were female, and more women (5.6%) are unemployed than has been the case since 1988.
Anna Bird of the Fawcett Society argued that something should be done immediately to address both alarming sets of figures: “This report must act as a call to arms; the government and others can no longer turn a blind eye to this injustice, wishing and hoping it will sort itself out.”