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UK 'generations away' from equality for women in top jobs

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
Models of a man and woman stand on a pile of coins and bank notes.
Women are 'generations away' from equality in top jobs in Britain, a report says. Photo: PA

Britain is “generations away” from even coming close to equality for women in top jobs in the UK, a charity has warned as new figures reveal men’s domination of leading professions.

Men still dominate the higher ranks of many sectors including business, politics, the law, media, civil service, and sports bodies, as well as trade unions and charities, according to the data.

Analysis by the Fawcett Society also highlights a particularly “alarming lack” of women of colour in senior jobs in any sector.

Figures published by the gender equality and women’s rights charity in its 2020 Sex and Power Index on Monday suggest:

  • Women make up just five of the CEOs of Britain’s top companies listed in the FTSE 100 index, unchanged on a year ago.

  • Less than a third (32%) of directors of FTSE 100 companies are female.

  • Only 21% of both national newspaper editors and sports governing body CEOs are women.

  • Just 34% of both MPs and permanent secretaries, the top civil servants in government departments, are women.

  • Only 23% of professional bodies and 27% of charities have female CEOs.

Female representation in senior jobs has increased, but progress has been 'dismally slow.' Chart: The Fawcett Society
Female representation in senior jobs has increased, but progress has been 'dismally slow.' Chart: The Fawcett Society

READ MORE: UK household debt hits record high as families ‘borrow to scrape by’

The figures show senior female representation has increased in some sectors, including senior roles in local government, the High Court, universities, and the NHS.

But the Fawcett Society report called the overall pace of change “dismally slow,” and called recruitment of women to more powerful executive director roles “the next challenge.”

The charity also said just one in four faces on bank notes is female, and women still make up less than half of characters in children’s pictures books.

Sam Smethers, the charity’s CEO, said Britain was “wasting women’s talent and skills,” calling for quotas, targets, and government intervention to make change happen.

“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,” she said.

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Dr Zubaida Haque, deputy director of race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said it was “astonishing” Britain had never had a non-white female FTSE 100 chief executive, Supreme Court judge or permanent secretary.

She said ethnic minorities now make up one in six of the UK’s population and welcomed some progress, but warned: “We cannot assume that generic gender initiatives and targets will also address racial discrimination issues for women of colour.”

The Fawcett Society also announced plans to track pay and progression patterns for women of colour in Britain in a new research project with the Runnymede Trust.

Women are under-represented in many senior jobs. Chart: The Fawcett Society
Women are under-represented in many senior jobs. Chart: The Fawcett Society

Business secretary Andrea Leadsom said gender equality and fairness would be “at the heart” of the government’s upcoming employment bill.

She said government plans included extending protections against redundancy for new mums, raising male take-up of shared parental leave, and “calling out” under-representation of women of colour.

“I am determined to lead the fight to tackle gender disparity in all sectors by removing barriers to women’s progression,” said Leadsom.