Progress on gender equality is moving at “glacial” speed with women making up less than a third of the top jobs in the UK, according to a new report.
Researchers discovered women are wholly absent from senior roles such as Supreme Court justices, FTSE 100 chief executives, metro mayors, and police and crime commissioners.
Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “The people who hold the top jobs in our society have enormous power to shape our democracy, culture and economy.
“Yet men continue to dominate most senior roles. That’s not only bad for the women who miss out on opportunities to thrive, but it’s bad for us all, as we miss out on women’s talent, skills and perspectives.”
Ms Olchawski warned it is “appalling” women of colour do not occupy leadership roles in critical institutions and organisations which profoundly shape British society.
“Put simply, this gives the lie to the idea that we live in a meritocracy or a society of equal opportunity,” she added. “Structures, culture and often individuals continue to create barriers that prevent women and women of colour, in particular, rising to the top. And we’re all losing out as a result.“
Ms Olchawski argued the Covid crisis has shined a light on “deep-rooted inequalities” across Britain as she warned women have often been left “largely invisible from debate and excluded from decision-making” despite being hard hit by the pandemic.
She added: “Women of colour, disabled women, young women and mothers have been at the sharpest end. At the height of the pandemic, only two out of 56 government press briefings were led by a female politician and women were under-represented across all Covid-19 advisory groups.
“It begs the question then, what if more women were at the table and making key decisions, would women across our society have felt the impact of political decisions throughout the pandemic so severely?”
The report, a biennial piece of research, warned the dearth of women in positions of power is a key driver of the gender pay gap, while the lack of women of colour compounds the ethnicity pay gap.
Researchers found women make up only 8 per cent of FTSE 100 CEOs but women of colour fill none of these roles, while women are in 38 per cent of non-executive directorships and only 14 per cent of executive directorships.
Women make up around a quarter of the government’s cabinet, as well as 27 per cent of Court of Appeal judges and 30 per cent of High Court judges.
Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, told The Independent: “From school to the workplace, there are structural barriers standing in the way of women of colour, depriving them of the opportunities they deserve.
“This latest report shows that these barriers still very much exist and must be urgently addressed. We know that women of colour have largely borne the brunt of this pandemic, and the burden to fix these structural inequalities should not fall on them.”
Dr Begum argued “unlocking the infinite potential” of the female ethnic minority workforce would profoundly advantage individuals as well as society as a whole, adding that the McGregor Smith review revealed the UK economy could gain an additional £24bn if women of colour received proper help with their careers.
“Employers should delve into data on career progression, particularly at mid-career level, to assess whether female ethnic minority colleagues are progressing at the same level or are disproportionately on insecure contracts,” she said. “These are some of the structural barriers women of colour face in the workplace, and how pay gaps exist and are sustained.”
Dianne Greyson, the founder of the #EthnicityPayGap Campaign, urged the government to roll out compulsory ethnicity pay gap reporting.
“Our recent research shows that black women experience pay disparity based on their race and are significantly held back in their career progression because of structural racism,” she said.
“It also highlights the considerable mental and physical pressures placed upon black women in the workplace. We want to see companies eradicate the cultural and systemic practices that impact women from an ethnic background.”
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