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Britain among worst for giving women top jobs

THE successful tiger economies of the Far East have far larger numbers of women at senior levels of management than any other countries, according to a 32-nation study.

Britain is in 25th place with only 19% of senior managerial jobs occupied by women, a factor attributed to the lack of government commitment to providing affordable childcare. Although it exceeds the European average by 2%, the opportunities for British women to excel present a stark contrast with countries such as the Philippines, China and Russia, where between one third and half of top jobs are held by women. The figures have been collected as part of the International Business Report (IBR), a survey involving 7,200 medium to large companies.

The IBR, which is coordinated by Grant Thornton, the international accountants, has data going back 15 years covering six sectors of employment — manufacturing, construction, retail, the service industries, professional services and other industries. In addition to revealing the poor performance of Britain, it shows that even countries with strong traditional gender roles, such as Greece, are pulling ahead of us. Although women graduates in Britain outperform men academically and in salaries while they are in the twenties, they fade from the workforce once they start having children. Apart from the lack of paid-for childcare, Britain has also suffered from the decline of traditional family models. Working women in Asia often have networks of grandparents and other relatives nearby to provide 24-hour care.

Countries such as China, Russia, Brazil and India — where the number of female managers has risen by 14% in the past three years — are forecast to account for almost half the world’s economic productivity by 2050. In Britain, the Women and Work Commission recently reported that more than 50% of women were doing jobs below their skill level. Creating conditions to allow them to move into higher paid occupations could be worth £15 billion to £23 billion a year to the economy.

„I don’t think there is an easy answer,” said Alysoun Stewart, head of Grant Thornton strategic services group. „Political window dressing has made no difference. Middle management salaries are not enough to pay for good childcare. The only thing that might make a difference will be the increasing problem of skill shortages, so women have to be attracted back to work.” Julie Logan, professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London, said that opportunities for working mothers were often curtailed because the need to be at home in the evenings reduced the time for networking: „The result is that they are not seen as being as committed as men.”

Na Mi, chairman and CEO of Oriental Investment UK, is a widow with a 17-year-old daughter. She said China’s culture of equal rights for men and women and the one-child policy introduced by Mao Tsetung had left a legacy from which all continued to benefit. „There was never anything to stop me progressing at work, even though I often had to leave early to take care of my daughter,” she said. „We have been in London for the past seven years and it is true that it is much harder for women here.”

Rachel Jones, a British economist based in Switzerland, who has worked in Africa and Russia, said working women in other cultures were not expected to provide support for their husbands’ careers as well: „I don’t think people take into account the extent to which British women are expected to run dinner parties and do PR for their husbands. That is not part of life in countries where men and women socialize separately.” (The Sunday Times)