Business: Is the

28th February 2011

As reported by Reuters former trade minister Mervyn Davies, who headed the review – has called for all heads of boards to announce their goals for boosting female board representation within the next 6 months.

The call for a review into gender issues in business was highlighted last year when the Cranfield School of Management found just 12.2% of FTSE 100 directors were women in 2009, falling to just 7.3% in the FTSE 250.

The report does not yet recommend enforceable quotas – which are already a requirement of businesses based in France, Norway and Spain.

On the Telegraph Alison Cooper, chief executive of Imperial Tobacco is opposed to the idea of quotas. She said boards should make selections on the basis of merit, business and leadership capabilities.

"I'm appalled by the idea of regulation in the area of forced distributions on boards. I find that quite rude to women and it's not something I would support at all."


Why are so few women occupying the higher echelons of UK businesses?

A survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management, Ambition and Gender at Work, published earlier this week suggested that the reason why so few women occupy boardroom roles is because their managerial career aspirations lag behind men's.

In the ILM survey, 73% of respondents felt barriers still existed for women seeking senior management and board-level positions in the UK. In contrast, just 38% of men believed there is a glass ceiling. The study found that men have a clearer idea of career progression than women. At the start of their careers, 52% of male managers had a fair or clear idea that they wanted to work in a particular role, compared with 45% of women managers. Only half of women said they expected to become managers, versus two-thirds of men.

ILM chief executive Penny de Valk said the pressure on many women to combine childcare with career aspirations was "part of the cocktail". She said that if large organisations wanted to nurture the talent of their best female employees, they needed to start challenging some of the unwritten rules of what their senior management roles looked like.

"It's not that women are risk-averse; younger women in particular are incredibly ambitious around entrepreneurial activity. Yet we can see that a promotion path within a large organisation is almost seen as riskier for them, on a personal basis, than going out and setting up their own venture", she said.

The Daily Mail interpreted the study as saying that "the glass ceiling was all in the mind" and reported the survey suggested women lack confidence and ambition at work.

"The biggest obstacle on women's climb to the top is their level of confidence – not their gender", said the article by Steve Doughty.

But Maggie Berry, managing director of careers site Women in Technology, says that gender quotas for the UK would not be popular among British women. She told HR Magazine that targets and education of middle management needed to be implemented to help drive change.

"The majority of the women that we talk to don't want to see the introduction of quotas – they want to get the top jobs on their own merit and ability, not to make up numbers", she says.

The Guardian's take on the research attracted nearly 200 reader comments. Some suggested that women were simply less ambitious than men and that it was impossible to combine high-flying career with caring for a child.

"We all have a right to choose and most men choose career over children – that is men exercising their right to choose," wrote Snoopadoo, "Women in greater numbers than men choose family over career – that is women exercising their right to choose."

But GreatChasmOfDespair pointed out that women don't really have as many choices as men. "Men don't choose work over children at all", she wrote, "they mostly choose work and children but with a wee wifey to take care of the homestead."

The importance of having an equal balance of women and men in the UK largest companies was highlighted in an article on the BBC News website

Moira Benigson, CEO of the MBS Group says lack of diversity is damaging to UK businesses while Carmen Watson, managing director of Pertemps Recruitment Partnership, says companies need to be more flexible in how they recruit, develop and manage their top talent. She says: "If they create the right infrastructure they can then develop and hold on to their star performers."

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