UK still ‘generations away’ from equality in top jobs, study shows

Women are still vastly underrepresented in positions of power, with such slow progress being made in many sectors that the UK is still “generations away” from achieving equality, according to research.

The 2020 Sex and Power Index from the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights and equality charity, charts how women remain missing in significant numbers from top jobs in politics, the law, civil service, trade unions, charities, professional bodies and sport bodies.

The index, published on Monday 13 January, also reveals an alarming lack of women of colour across the top jobs in all sectors.

Sam Smethers, the Fawcett Society’s chief executive, said: “Despite much lip service about the importance of having women in top jobs, today’s data shows we are still generations away from achieving anything close to equality. We are wasting women’s talent and skills.”

She added: “Male dominance of positions of power remains strong, as this 2020 Sex and Power Index shows. If we want change, we have to make it happen. That means quotas, targets and policy interventions to remove the barriers to women’s progression.”

The report detailed how many women are in top jobs in different sectors, including:

  • The law: the supreme Court now has two female justices out of 12 (17%). Since its formation in 2009, there has never been a minority ethnic supreme court judge.

  • Business: just over one in 20 chief executives of FTSE 100 companies are women. None are women of colour.

  • Education: women make up just 39% of secondary headteachers, a rise of 6% since 2005. Among university vice-chancellors, 30% are women – but only 1% of them are women are colour.

  • Media: women comprise 21% of national newspaper editors, with four women in the top jobs.

  • Sport: 21% of national sport governing body CEOs are women, down from 26% in 2018. Only 4% of Premier League clubs are led by women.

  • House of Commons: 34% of MPs are women – up only 2% in the recent election. BAME women now make up 17% of female MPs, which is in line with the population as a whole.

  • House of Lords: the proportion of women is at 27%. Only 2% of all peers are women of colour.

  • Devolved parliaments/national assemblies: there are no minority ethnic women in the Scottish parliament, the Welsh national assembly or the Northern Ireland assembly.

  • Cabinet: 30% of the cabinet are women, as are 47% of the shadow cabinet.

  • Civil service: about a third of permanent secretaries are women (up from 31% in 2018 to 34% currently). There are no women of colour in these roles.

The Fawcett Society is calling on the government to improve gender pay gap reporting by reducing the threshold for doing so to 100-plus employees, requiring companies to publish action plans and introducing reporting on the gender pay gap by ethnicity.

It is also urging the introduction of time-limited quotas for use across public bodies and the boards of large corporate organisations and for the government to make flexible working the default.

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This report comes as the Fawcett Society launches the Pay and Progression of Women of Colour Project. Working in partnership with the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, the two-year investigation will seek to understand the inequalities and intersecting barriers faced by BAME women and the solutions they think will help them to overcome them.

Dr Zubaida Haque, the trust’s deputy director, said: “It’s astonishing to think that there has been a significant and growing black and ethnic minority population in this country (now one in six people) since the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948 and yet we have never had a non-white supreme court judge, or a civil service permanent secretary or a CEO of FTSE 100 companies who is a woman of colour.”

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