Norway leads the way on moves to get women into top jobs
The world's leading firms are failing to make the most of the talents of their female workforce, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has said.
Women are still failing to break into senior management or onto the board, the Corporate Gender Gap report said.
The US led the way with the highest percentage of female employees (52%), while India had the lowest (23%).
Meanwhile, the UK government called for the talent and skills of women to be "properly represented".
In an event to mark International Women's Day, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said firms could be forced to report on efforts they are making to increase the number of women in senior management jobs.
"We all recognise the value of strong role models for women in all walks of life - and there are many in politics, the arts, public services, sport and the third sector, but there are too few in Britain's boardrooms," he said.
"When more than half of graduates are women, it is completely unacceptable that some of our top 100 public companies have not a single woman on their boards."
To tackle the global problem, the WEF urged companies to do more to educate and utilise female talent.
The report is based on a survey of 600 of the heads of Human Resources at the world's largest employers across 16 industries in 20 countries.
"The findings of The Corporate Gender Gap Report are an alarm bell on that the corporate world is not doing enough to achieve gender equality" said report co-author Saadia Zahidi.
"While a certain set of companies in Scandinavia, the US and the UK are indeed leaders in integrating women, the idea that most corporations have become gender-balanced or women-friendly is still a myth."
The study found that while Norway was leading the way on getting women into top company jobs - following legislation to ensure that 40% of a public company board is female - elsewhere female employees tend to be concentrated in entry or middle level positions.
The average number of women holding the CEO level position was a little less than 5% among the 600 companies surveyed. Finland (13%), Norway (12%), Turkey (12%), Italy (11%) and Brazil (11%) have the highest percentage of women CEOs in this sample.
Most respondents blamed traditional and cultural practices, "masculine or patriarchal corporate culture" and "lack of role models" for women being unable to move up the career ladder.
"Women account for one-half of the potential talent base throughout the world and therefore, over time, a nation's competitiveness depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilises its female talent," added Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Forum.
The services sector employs the greatest percentage of women, and within this sector Financial Services and Insurance (60%), Professional Services (56%) and the Media and Entertainment Industry (42%) employ the greatest proportion of women.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, sectors more traditionally viewed as "male" employed the lowest percentage of women - automotive (18%), mining (18%) and agriculture (21%).
The report also highlighted the ongoing issue of the gender pay gap.
Despite almost all countries bringing in measures to tackle the problem - only Brazil and Mexico have taken no action - a pay divide remains between the sexes, while most employers (72%) do not attempt to track salary gaps at all.
On a more positive note, 40% said they were taking some kind of action to improve the participation of women in their workforce such as implementing targets, quotas or flexible working schemes for parents.
Countries surveyed for the study were Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK and US.