Women in business: Still a man’s world?

More and more women may be choosing to start their own business, according to research published this month by Barclays Bank, but a primary driver for that growth is the infamous glass ceiling that continues to exist within many more established businesses.

The Barclays figures on the increasing number of start-ups begun by women complements figures published by Experian, the customer information specialist, last year.

Experian found that companies with a turnover of less than £5m per year employ 95% of all women directors. It claimed its results showed women were spearheading the country’s entrepreneurial drive ‘into the 21st century’.

And while women make up just over 33% of all directors in the UK, 37.5% of young directors aged between 18 and 24 are women. Some 44% of all female directors work in the banking, finance, insurance or leasing sectors.

But the Experian figures do not paint the whole picture.

Beyond the FTSE-100, in companies with a turnover of Pounds 5m and more, women just make up one in 10 of the average boardroom.

Separate research has shown that out of 1,247 directors heading FTSE-100 companies, only 65 are female, according to the FTSE Female Index, a report unveiled last year at a seminar sponsored by Fawcett, the Industrial Society and Harriet Harman MP. That’s just 5.2% of the total, according to the report, based on analysis of last September’s PricewaterhouseCoopers’s corporate register.

No company, according to that analysis, has more than two female directors.

Media giant Pearson (with Gillian Lewis and Marjorie Scardino), SmithKline Beecham (Baroness Hooper and Dr Lucy Shapiro) and Barclays Bank itself (Mary Baker and Hilary Cropper) are among this group. But almost half the companies have none at all. ICI, Sage and Powergen fall within this category.

Beyond the FTSE-100, in companies with a turnover of £5m and more, women just make up one in 10 of the average boardroom. Two-thirds of all directors are men.

The latest Sunday Times top 500 British earners makes equally grim reading.

The best placed woman was Nikki Beckett, founder of the computer software company NSB. But she is placed in 68th position – two ahead of the Queen.

The picture is little better in public life. In the House of Commons, of the 659 MPs, only 120 are women. Of the five women in the cabinet, none hold any of the top portfolios. In the courts, just eight out of a total number of 103 High Court judges are female.

But of the 300,000 people earning below the national minimum wage, 200,000 are women, calculates the Office for National Statistics. Beyond a handful of celebrated examples such as the Body Shop’s Anita Roddick,’s Martha Lane Fox and Esther Dyson of WPP Group, getting to the top in business, if you are female, can still prove problematic.

‘Women still face barriers particularly sex discrimination which is quite sad,’ says Dinah Bennett, programme director of the foundation for SME development at Durham University.

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