Women are not applying for top jobs on government quangos because they lack confidence, a new report claims.
Research published tomorrow by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions into why there are not enough women on public bodies shows that most quangos remain in the hands of an "old boys' network".
The findings have prompted a major recruitment drive, spearheaded by the Minister for Women, Barbara Roche. The Government aims to increase the numbers of women in such jobs significantly in 2002.
Ms Roche and her team will now find ways of overcoming "lack of confidence", "childcare problems" and a "lack of awareness of opportunities" to encourage more women to apply.
They are likely to adopt female-friendly recruitment practices as well as advertisements written in a modern language and style and placed where women are likely to read them.
She said: "Women's voices should and must be more influential in shaping our national public life. Currently, women take up only 33 per cent of national and regional public appointments.
"The research shows that a lack of confidence is a major barrier preventing women applying for public appointments. That is why I will be hosting a series of workshops in the new year to encourage women with experience of local public appointments, such as school governors or magistrates, to think about moving up to national and regional public bodies. Their skills and experience are exactly what is required."
The research also showed that while many more men than women apply for public jobs, once they apply, a greater percentage of women than men succeed at each stage of the appointments process.
Sally Keeble, appointments minister at the DTLR, commissioned the research and has taken the lead by announcing a new target to bring representation up from 33 per cent to 50 per cent in 2002.
"It's a tough target, but we are determined to make public bodies more representative of society as a whole and achieve this as soon as possible," she said.
"Until now, nobody has taken a step back and questioned the barriers that prevent women from seeking public appointments. Understanding why women are under-represented is key to boosting equality in public life.
Women were also put off because they felt they weren't attractive enough, by money worries and because they didn't think they had the time to fulfil their duties, the research showed.
* The Government will deliver its response to the Kingsmill review into the gender pay gap this week.
Ministers are likely to make clear they believe the pay gap exists primarily because women take time out of their careers to have children, and will promise a package of measures to make childcare and work more compatible.
Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt will begin a string of meetings with trade unions and employers to work out ways of helping women to achieve that balance and to close the pay gap.
Ms Hewitt is to write to the chief executives of the FTSE 100 companies urging them to share best practice in ending gender inequality in wages. She will also take the first steps to tackle the "long hours culture" in Whitehall.