Fewer than a third of the most senior jobs in the UK are held by women, according to new figures.
Women occupy on average almost 31% of top jobs across 11 sectors, research by BBC News has shown, including business, politics and policing.
The armed forces and judiciary have the fewest women in top posts while secondary education have the most at more than a third, or 36.7%.
According to the findings, women represent 1.3% of brigadiers or their equivalent and above across the Army, Navy and RAF; 13.2% of the most senior judges; 14.2% of university vice-chancellors; 16.6% of the most senior staff in the police; and 34.7% of the senior civil service.
Women are most strongly represented in secondary education, where they make up 36.7% of headteachers, and in public appointments, where they account for 36.4%, the analysis found.
The European Commission is considering new laws to get more women into top management jobs and has held a public consultation aimed at finding ways of increasing the number of women in top jobs, part of which includes mandatory quotas.
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told the BBC it was "crystal clear" the issue needed to be addressed.
However Edwina Currie, the former Conservative health minister, told BBC Breakfast that she opposed quotas for women.
"The moment you start having special arrangements, the people who come through have not acquired the talents and the skills that they will need for the majority.
"I used to say in Parliament, for example, that people who came in on the all-women shortlists, most of them were absolutely useless. Most people can't remember who they were."
"I would love to see more women at the top in all sort of posts, and particularly things like judges, where it really does matter," she said.
"But I think the way forward is for us women to be as good as we can get and to go and bang on that door and say 'Actually, you are missing really good talent here'."
Twitter users have reacted angrily to Currie's opposition of women quotas for top posts, accusing her of being "condescending" towards the other women on the panel.
Some made reference to her affair with married former Prime Minister John Major, accusing the former Conservative Minister of being hypocritical.
Emer Timmons, president of BT Global Services UK, told the BBC: "Sometimes people still think they should be handed things - but they've just absolutely got to have more confidence in their abilities."
Barrister Cherie Blair backed quotas for women in the boardroom and Parliament in a speech last December.
She told the BBC: "The truth is that we have waited and waited and unless we do take special measures to look at the systemic reasons why women aren't making it to the top, we are never going to succeed."