Even where front-line managers bear no malice towards the progress of women, they often act as 'benign saboteurs' through lack of awareness, scheme leaders said as the campaign celebrated its second anniversary.
Lady Howe, chair of Opportunity 2000, said that 'passive support' for equal opportunities was not an option if there was to be real change. Personal commitment was needed from top managers, and that commitment had to be transmitted down the managerial tree.
It was no good increasing access for women to top jobs if the training involved meant attendance at residential courses where there was no child care. Introducing the annual report, Lady Howe said: 'Although we have more and better policies now for career-breaks, job sharing and leave, it will take some time to increase actual take-up.'
One-third of organisations signed up to Opportunity 2000 blamed the recession as the main barrier to progress and Lady Howe agreed there was still a need to spread the campaign's net wider. Out of 216 member organisations, there were only a handful of small- to middle-sized companies and there was an under-representation of manufacturing, information technology and construction companies.
Lady Howe nevertheless insisted that there was a wide spread of employers involved, although she conceded that the absence of trade unions was an omission that needed to be corrected.
Lady Howe said the campaign, which launched its second anniversary under the banner 'making a difference', had made substantial progress over the year.
Opportunity 2000's annual report showed the number of women senior managers at Abbey National had risen from 10 per cent to 15 per cent and Boots had put 40,000 of its staff through an equal opportunities awareness programme.
There were also some impressive 'firsts' for campaign members such as the appointment of Barbara Harmer as British Airways' first female Concorde pilot regularly flying the London-New York route. The first female director was appointed at the Bank of England.
Lady Howe said it was encouraging that more member companies were now introducing numerical measures so that progress could be scrutinised objectively.
Attending the campaign's second anniversary meeting in London, David Hunt, Secretary of State for for Employment, said there was a case for the Government to monitor more closely what was going on in its own departments.
Mr Hunt, who is also minister for women, said that such figures should be published.
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