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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 December, 2004, 14:29 GMT
Women 'still face glass ceiling'
Pregnant woman
Many women feel marginalised at work when they become pregnant
Women are being held back in the workplace by inflexible practices and outdated attitudes to family responsibilities, a study says.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) said women had made only marginal progress in filling more top jobs in public life and business in 2004.

Its research also found that about 20% of women faced dismissal or financial loss as a result of pregnancy.

The body called for a complete shake-up of government policies on the family.

Marginal progress

Publishing the findings of its annual report Sex and Power: Who Runs Britain?, the EOC said the top echelons of British public life were still highly unrepresentative of society as a whole even though 2005 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the landmark Sex Discrimination Act.

Just 1% more women were occupying senior positions in business, the police force and the judiciary than a year ago.

Women accounted for 11% of director level positions in British businesses in 2004, the report found, and 21% of senior positions in the public and voluntary sectors.

Ignoring the potential contribution that women can make will cost Britain dear in terms of productivity
Jenny Watson, Equal Opportunities Commission

Although women accounted for a higher share of all elected representatives, at 28% they still lag behind many of their European counterparts in terms of holding political office, the report said.

In terms of number of female members of Parliament, the United Kingdom ranks 14th out of 25 EU member states.

"There are plenty of talented women in business, politics and other areas of public life," said Jenny Watson, the EOC's deputy chair.

"Yet our decision makers remain overwhelmingly male."

Limited choices

The EOC said it was encouraged that more employers were embracing family-friendly working practices.

However, it believed too many organisations and businesses were still prone to sidelining mothers onto a so-called 'Mummy track' where career choices were much more limited.

The EOC said the government must develop a national family strategy to replace what it criticised as its current "piecemeal" approach to childcare and family issues.

"Without addressing women's responsibilities at home as well as work, we will continue to lose out on women's talent," added Mrs Watson.

"And ignoring the potential contribution that women can make will cost Britain dear in terms of productivity."

More in evidence

The Confederation of British Industry said many women chose relatively low paid careers because they offered more flexibility when they chose to start a family and the opportunity to work part-time.

However, the employers' organisation said British firms were making strides in promoting more women to top roles.

"There is quite a lot happening now," said a spokeswoman.

"Women are more in evidence and we are encouraged that more employers recognise the talent that is out there."

Are you bumping up against the glass ceiling? Or do you think it doesn't exist at all? Get in touch with the postform below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far.

Unless one of my family can care for my child full time, I will have to stay in my current post where shift work is flexible. Promotion would mean regular hours which would not fit in with home life. My career now feels like it will just stay stagnant for a while, but these are things I was well aware of before I started trying for a family. My employer does not discriminate and there are improving working life strategies in place to help out with childcare advice.
Linda Fowler, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England

I work as a manager in a furniture shop. I am expected to lift deliveries into the storeroom and out again when sold. I am also expected to move heavy suites around the showroom. Women managers in other stores refuse to lift or do any stockroom work etc. They usually get more assistance and more staff to cover their shortcomings. They get paid the same as me !! Why?? Why should they get promotion in front of a male manager?
B.Miles, Leeds

I can only speak on behalf of my wife but I feel there is quite definitely career discrimination against women going off to have a family. My wife lectured at a college of further education and the availability of meaningful career opportunities changed radically when she told them she was pregnant. It was clear that this was all a major inconvenience and my wife is convinced to this day that had her job not been protected by law, she would have been obliged to leave.
Michael Gemson, Rolleston, UK

I'm a male working for a major multinational household brand, and have to say I think this is nonsense. Most of the high positions in management, as well as directorships, are held by women in our company. This doesn't bother me in the slightest, but I don't see any evidence of this so-called glass ceiling here.
Anon, Scotland

Upon becoming a father, my priorities in life changed and I have not pursued better paid/higher position jobs in order to spend time with my children. I assume many women make the same decision. These 'top' jobs pay enough for a nanny so lack of money cannot be an issue, it is simply a parent's choice. The government would like high earners back to work but are communities becoming the poorer for this way of thinking? It seems 'just' being a parent is not thought of as the incredibly important job it actually is.
Anon, Chelmsford

The root of the debate seems to be that women choose more flexible jobs. And? On the outset of it there doesn't seem to be a problem, you choose what you want to do in life. Until someone compares the statistics for pay and then all hell breaks loose. You take a less serious attitude to work and you get paid less, what did they expect? The solution by the government seems to be to cut off the hands to business, to force them into constraints that benefit women. Sexism. And suggestions of promoting more women to the top is plain sexism also, why can no-one see it?
Mark Overy, Swansea

If there is a glass ceiling, it is the fault of women. Women have choices and no one except themselves forces them to live a certain type of life. Women also should look at themselves more objectively. Despite feminism and girl power, it is still women and children first. Instead of saying how marvellous they are, perhaps they should concentrate on sorting out their faults.
Peter Evans, Bristol, England

I used to think that the glass ceiling was a load of nonsense but now that I am in early 30s, I have seen first-hand evidence that it exists. Business has been a traditionally male domain so the qualities that are seen as desirable in order to succeed are male - aggression, single-mindedness, ruthlessness, inability to admit to mistakes. Traditional "female" qualities such as good communication skills and multi tasking are valued but are simply not given as much credence as male ones so the cycle persists.
Susan, London, UK

My boss told me he had made a mistake employing me, as I cannot commit the hours that a man can to be successful in my role. I have a two-year old, and I work full time as a mortgage broker, having incidentally written more business than two of my male colleagues in the last year. My boss consistently makes comments that I cannot cope, and will never be successful whilst I have a young family. I feel I have to work harder to prove myself to him, but it doesn't seem to make any difference to his views.
Sarah Rose, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

I am a mum of a seven-month old baby, and I think that by being at home I can actually make more difference in people's life than having a paid job somewhere (I'm a qualified teacher). Making our home a wonderful place to be and educating my child to grow up as a person who takes responsibility for this world are my main aims as a mother. I would be silly wanting to get into a "high position" where men are - just look at how stressed they are! I would also make more enemies than friends because of the jealousy of people. I believe that a woman's only rewarding and satisfying role is being a home-maker.
Helga Barnard, Bradford, UK

My partner, a graduate with an MBA from a premier business school, was denied opportunities in favour of less senior male colleagues in two financial services firms. When she became pregnant in the second firm, the discrimination we had hitherto only suspected against her (the only non-secretarial women in her division), became explicit and verifiable and we negotiated an exit on favourable terms with the Chairman (over the heads of her supervisors). We have friends who have experienced similar implicit and explicit discriminatory issues with well-known firms and organisations.
Mark, London, UK

Nearly five years ago, I started working for a large telecoms operator in the UK. I was told by a middle manager who was female to not even bother thinking about climbing the ladder - she said I was the wrong gender! I was also warned by another female manager who was retiring early that my chance of success were slim because of my gender. It was clear from the way they were talking that they had spent many years in the organisation trying to reach the top and had found they had been hindered because they were female. I did apply on a number of occasions for jobs within the company that would put me up a rung but in every case I didn't even get an interview. In the end I gave up - I've opted out of the career struggle and decided that there are other much more important things in life.
Dawn Möller, Sweden

If a person starts working for a company it is not the companies responsibility to re-arrange there working practices and rules to suit one particular group of employees (in this case a women/mothers). By making one group of employees a special case you then discriminate against other groups!
Ian , Rayleigh

I am a woman and I have a career, but no kids (yet). My opinion on the glass ceiling is that it exists, but perhaps women can't have it all... I don't think that a woman can be a good mother AND a high flying career woman (well, not until the kids have grown up). )
Jo, London

As a research biologist, I found that running a home and doing full-time productive research are incompatible. I could not put in the hours required to furthering my career without entrusting my child to a carer. As I didn't want to have someone else bringing up my child, I elected to put career on the back burner. I'm now fifty and looking for a research position! I would do the same again. I do not know what the answer is - women have the babies.
Susan Tzotzos, Vienna, Austria

I have just resigned from a job in the financial sector - from a company that bangs the Diversity drum very loudly and yet is highly discriminatory. My human resources contact said that all of the recent resignees, all women under 35 yrs, had made similar comments but that there was nothing that could be done. It is quite clear that once a woman reaches her 30th birthday she is unlikely to advance any further.

I was surrounded by some highly incompetent men who had the same job title as myself but had less ability and better pay; I was told by my manager that I got paid well for a 30-something woman who would undoubtedly go off and get married soon. Improvement is unlikely whilst corporations retain the view shown by Ian from Rayleigh. It actually makes good sense for corporations to recruit and retain the most able and bright employees. A competitive company does not require bodies at desks from 9-5, but able and talented emloyees.
Helen, London

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Why women aren't achieving their full potential

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10 Jan 05 |  Scotland
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06 Sep 04 |  Business

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