Women lose their seat on the board

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The proportion of female directors in companies which are members of the anti-discrimination campaign Opportunity 2000 has slumped by nearly one-third, it was disclosed yesterday.

A year ago, women accounted for 16 per cent of board members at the 300 organisations which belong to the campaign designed to increase the number of females in managerial posts. Yesterday, the organisation conceded that the latest figure was 11 per cent. Celebrating the fifth anniversary of Opportunity 2000, Lady Elspeth Howe, its chairman, conceded that the total number of women in such positions was so low that even one departure could make a significant impact on the percentage.

Peter Davis, group chief executive of the Prudential Corporation, a prominent member of the group, said that while the figures seemed to show a decline it was "counter-intuitive" as far his personal experience was concerned and that of others involved in the initiative.

While Lady Howe reported no major progress in the number of women in senior positions over the last 12 months, they had "held on" to previous gains. Some 31 per cent of all managers at Opportunity 2000 employers were women, 17 per cent of senior managers, 31 per cent of middle managers and 41 per cent of junior managers. This compared with 12.3 per cent of managers in the United Kingdom as a whole, the Institute of Management said. The percentage of female directors in Opportunity 2000 firms was 11 per cent compared with 3.3 per cent elsewhere.

Around 80 per cent of Britain's leading employers, with about one-quarter of the working population, are members of Opportunity 2000, officials said. They said there were notable absentees, including BTR, Hanson Group, BAT, GEC, Pearson and Mirror Group Newspapers. Some employers had left because of restructuring. A number of local authorities left because of public expenditure cutbacks.

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