Despite record numbers of women graduating from university and achieving better results than men for the first time, it could be 70 years before we can expect gender equality in Britain's top firms, according to a shocking report released today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The report, which estimates that thousands of women are "missing" from the country's 26,000 most powerful posts, found that the move towards equality is not only "torturously slow", but in certain sectors "regularly stalls or even reverses".
Women in the media are faring even worse than they did three years ago, representing only 9.5% of national newspaper editors, compared to 13.6% in 2008, and 6.7 per cent of FTSE 350 media companies' chief executives, a fall from 10.5 per cent in 2008.
The survey, Sex and Power 2011, also found that women represent just 12.5% of directors of FTSE 100 companies, 22.2% of MPs and 12.9% of senior members of the judiciary.
The authors of the survey suggest that the major stumbling blocks for women attempting to scale the career ladder are "outdated working patterns where long hours are the norm, inflexible organisations and the unequal division of domestic responsibilities".
Commissioner Kay Carberry said: "The gender balance at the top has not changed much in three years, despite there being more women graduating from university and occupying middle-management roles. We had hoped to see an increase in the number of women in positions of power; however, this isn't happening.
"Many women disappear from the paid workforce after they have children, so employers lose their skills. Others become stuck in positions below senior management, leaving many feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. Consequently, the higher ranks of power in many organisations are still dominated by men.
"If Britain is to stage a strong recovery from its current economic situation, then we have to make sure we're not wasting women's skills and talents."
Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the women's employment-rights group the Fawcett Society said: "It's 2011 and women remain largely excluded from positions of power and influence in virtually every sphere of life - the media, the judiciary, the education sector and more."
She added: "Without radical action, babies born today will be drawing their pensions before they can hope to have an equal say in the world of politics, business and education.
"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. We look forward to hearing all political parties respond to this report, and explain their plans to challenge the stark and persistent injustice that is the absence of women from positions of power across the country.
"Until David Cameron honours his pledge to run a cabinet where women make up one-third of the ministers, the Coalition Government's calls on business and others to open up their top tables to women sound hollow."
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