Sex and Power report reveals fewer women in positions of power and influence

04 September 2008

Sex and Power, the Equality and Human Rights Commission's annual report looking at women in top positions of power and influence across the public and private sectors, suggests a worrying trend of reversal or stalled progress - with only a few significant increases.

Now in its fifth year, the index this year indicates fewer women hold top posts in 12 of the 25 categories (almost half). In another 5 categories, the number of women remains unchanged since 2007's index. Women's representation has increased in just 8 areas.

There are fewer women MPs in Westminster, where they make up just 19.3 percent of all MPs. Women’s representation among FTSE 100 directors has improved slightly from 10.4 to 11.0 percent. 

The Commission has likened women's progress to a snail's pace. A snail could crawl:

  • nine times round the M25 in the 55 years it will take women to achieve equality in the senior judiciary.
  • from Land's End to John O'Groats and halfway back again in the 73 years it will take for equal numbers of women to become directors of FTSE 100 companies.
  • the entire length of the Great Wall of China in 212 years, only slightly longer than the 200 years it will take for women to be equally represented in Parliament.

This year's report, which traditionally estimates the number of years at the present rate of progress it will take for women to achieve equality in key areas, indicates that compared to previous year's predictions it will now take 15 years longer (a total of 55 years) for women to achieve equal status at senior levels in the judiciary, and women directors in FTSE 100 companies could be waiting in the wings a further 8 years (a total of 73 years).

If women were to achieve equal representation among Britain's 31,000 top positions of power, the Commission estimates nearly 5,700 'missing' women would rise through the ranks.

This year's Sex and Power report is part of the Commission's ongoing 'Working Better' project. Launched in July of this year, the campaign is seeking to identify innovative ways of working which can help meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

Nicola Brewer, the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'Young women's aspiration is in danger of giving way to frustration. Many of them are now excelling at school and are achieving great things in higher education. And they are keen to balance a family with a rewarding career. But workplaces forged in an era of 'stay at home mums' and 'breadwinner dads' are putting too many barriers in the way - resulting in an avoidable loss of talent at the top.'

‘We always speak of a glass ceiling. These figures reveal that in some cases it appears to be made of reinforced concrete. We need radical change to support those who are doing great work and help those who want to work better and release talent.’

'The Commission’s report argues that today's findings are not just a 'women's issue' but are a powerful symptom of a wider failure. The report asks in what other ways are old-fashioned, inflexible ways of working preventing Britain from tapping into talent - whether that of women or other under-represented groups such as disabled people, ethnic minorities or those with caring responsibilities. Britain cannot afford to go on marginalising or rejecting talented people who fail to fit into traditional work patterns.'

Ends 

You can download a copy of the report here.

For more information please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.

Notes to editors

Working Better launched on July 14, 2008 is a new initiative of the Commission aiming to identify and promote innovative new ways of working which help meet the challenges of the 21st century. Whether you are a woman aiming to shatter the glass ceiling, or someone with caring responsibilities, a mother or a father who wants to be a more active parent, a disabled person who wants a fulfilling career, a younger worker who wants phased entry into work, or an older worker who wants to stay in the labour market longer – the Commission believes this is the big issue of our time. For more information, see our Working Better section.

To mark the launch of Working Better, the Commission partnered with Mumsnet.com and Dad Info, two leading parenting websites, to launch their unique consultation, Home Front: What do mums and dads need to make life work? To take part in the consultation please visit: www.mumsnet.com and www.dad.info.

The Commission's counterpart in Scotland is today launching a Scottish version of the report. For more information, please visit or Sex and Power in Scotland page. To coincide with the launch of Sex and Power, the Commission has recorded short interviews with a number of women in senior positions, including Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party. The Commission will add more interviews in the coming days and weeks, featuring top women's response to the findings of today's report and their views on what would speed up the pace of change. To view the footage, introduced by the Commission's Chief Executive Nicola Brewer, please visit www.equalityhumanrights.com/sexandpower.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission will map out its vision for the future of work with the publication of a major report in the new year that will look at how we can 'work better'.

The  Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.

The  Equality and Human Rights Commission  enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.