Women taking their share of glittering prizes

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The Independent Online
"I don't see prejudice. I've never seen it. I've just gone ahead and done what I felt I wanted to do. The fact that I was a woman was totally irrelevant." So says Jill Ruddock, a finance director for Coopers and Lybrand. She looks after the tax division which has a turnover of pounds 170m a year and employs 2,000 people.

According to a new survey by the Institute of Management, she is not alone. The survey, the largest of its kind, has found that the number of female executives is rising faster than at any time in the past three years and the pay gap is starting to close.

The number of women managers has risen by 60 per cent in the past three years. However women still only make up just over 15 per cent of executives, and the proportion of women in the boardroom is 4.5 per cent.

The gains come as no surprise to Ms Ruddock: "I think the progression of women is demographic as much as anything," she said. "When you look at the position of women 10 years ago you tend to forget that a lot of men then in directorial positions were in their forties and fifties, so you are looking back twenty years to when they had their education and training, which wasn't available in the same way to women then."

"Women 20 years ago didn't plan their careers as carefully as men because they had the expectation perhaps that they wouldn't need to work all their lives."

Now, she says, it is different: "Young women are doing well; my experience backs up the survey. I think increasingly women believe they can do it and there's no reason why they shouldn't."

She also thinks that the way success is measured may be obscuring women's achievements: "We're looking here very much at the large plcs where you have to have a certain type of personality, character and tenacity to claw your way to the top. A lot of women who have been extremely successful choose not to fight it out in large organisations but grow their own companies and they don't reach plc status as quickly."

According to the survey, today's average female director is 40 years old, earns pounds 71,126 and has been with the organisation eight years. Her male colleague is 48, earns pounds 91,957 and has been with the firm 14 years.

The average female manager is 37, earns pounds 31,550 and has been with the firm 11 years. Her male counterpart is 44, earns pounds 35,761 and has been with the organisation 17 years.

But the earnings gap between the sexes has narrowed this year. While male managers' pay increased by 6 per cent, up from 4.7 per cent last year, women managers have seen their pay rise by 7.4 per cent from 4.7 per cent. Women directors have seen their pay rise by 9.2 per cent compared with 7.8 per cent for men.

For any aspiring female directors Jill Ruddock feels the future is rosy: "You've got to think you are a person first and a woman second and then go for it. The world is your oyster."

The National Management Salary Survey costs pounds 420, from Remuneration Economics, Survey House, 51 Portland Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey KT1 2SH.