Almost three-quarters of women in managerial roles believe that a glass ceiling preventing them reaching the top of their professions still exists, a report has revealed.
Half of the UK's female managers also think the law should be changed to make companies ensure that a minimum proportion of seats on their boards are filled by women, says the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM).
The ILM's report is being published just days before Lord Davies, the former banker asked by the Government to chair an inquiry into gender equality in the boardroom, publishes his recommendations.
Lord Davies has already indicated that he is resistant to the idea of legally binding quotas and his final report is expected to say they should not be introduced. Reports say he will propose that companies should given two years in which to increase the number of women on their boards.
He is expected to call for a fifth of FTSE 350 board members to be women by 2013, rising to a quarter by 2015.
The ILM's report, based on interviews with 3,000 managers, suggests that many women will be disappointed with that conclusion. It reveals that 47 per cent of women believe that quotas should be introduced in order to rapidly increase the number of female directors on boards of British companies.
That appears to reflect many women's frustrations about obstacles standing in the way of their career progression. The report says that 36 per cent of women believe that their gender has hindered their attempts to climb the corporate ladder, with the figure rising to 44 per cent for women over the age of 45.
Penny Valk, the ILM's chief executive, said the figures suggested widespread unhappiness with companies' failure to promote more women to the most senior roles – as well as mixed views on how to tackle the problem.
"The research reveals a real split in opinion on how best to deal with the glacial progress the UK is making towards gender equality," she said. "Quotas may be seen as the quickest solution and some countries, notably Norway, have introduced them with some success. However, although they do not necessarily drive a commitment to the more fundamental changes that are required."
Ms Valk said that the imposition of quotas would be "an admission of failure".
However, organisations such as the Fawcett Society, which have campaigned for quotas, argue that the statistics speak for themselves.
A survey by the School of Management at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire, published last year, revealed that just three women joined FTSE 100 boards during 2010, bringing the total to 116, and of the trio, only one was an executive director. The study described 2010 as "another year of barely perceptible change in the representation of women in leadership positions at Britain's top 100 companies", in which female board membership rose from 12.2 per cent to 12.5 per cent.
In Norway, the first country to introduce quotas, female representation on the boards of large companies rose from 6 per cent to 44 per cent between 2002 and 2008. France, Finland, Germany and Sweden have all either set similar recommended levels, or have legislation pending that would do so.
Britain's hand may be forced by Brussels. Vivian Reding, the European Union's rights commissioner, has said that unless more European boardroom seats are filled by women by the end of this year, she will attempt to impose a legal quota.
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