Only five women make list of 100 most important Britons

By Matthew Beard
Saturday 07 December 2002 01:00

Only five women have made it on to a list of the 100 most important people in Britain.

The survey by The Economist examines the top jobs in politics, business, academia, the professions, sport and the arts. It follows similar polls in 1972 and 1992.

It says the most powerful women in Britain are Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry; Helen Liddell, the Secretary of State for Scotland; Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5; and the Queen. In 1992 there were four women, including the Queen, in the top 100.

Emma Duncan, Britain editor of The Economist, said she was "astonished" at the findings but was optimistic that the next poll would include more women.

She said: "Most of the current crop are in their 50s and 60s but there are plenty of women in their 40s in second and third-level management positions who could end up at the top if they don't fall away due to exhaustion like the last batch appear to have."

Jenny Watson, deputy chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said she was disappointed that no businesswoman had made the list. But she added: "I think things will improve because companies recognise what they are missing out on. Only last week Barclays Bank announced that they would pay a premium to their headhunters for finding good women."

The poll also shows that the number of "top people" who were educated at Oxbridge or a public school is dwindling. In 1972 and 1992 they made up about two thirds of the list, but this year the proportion dropped to 46 per cent.

Eton has suffered most. It is down from 14 in 1972 to two now – Charles Nunneley of the National Trust and David Calvert-Smith, the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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