Women are losing the battle for gender equality in Britain's workplaces after years of progress, a report shows today.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission's annual study, which looks at the number of women given top positions in business, politics and the public sector, found women's representation had fallen in almost half the industries surveyed. It is the biggest backward step for workplace gender equality in the five years the study has been carried out
The commission's assessment found that the proportion of women holding key positions in British life had fallen in 12 out of the 25 categories surveyed in 2006. In politics, fewer women now hold positions of power in Parliament, the Cabinet and in the UK's regional assemblies. It would take two centuries, or another 40 elections, for women to reach parity with men on the benches of the House of Commons, the report says.
This sounds very terrible until you realise that if you have 25 categories, then fewer women represented in 12 categories means more or the same number of women in 13 categories. This looks like the kind of random fluctuation that occurs through chance. It is like producing a report on the fact that flicking a coin 25 times gives you 12 heads and 13 tails.
I am being a little bit flippant as the idea here is that because women do make up fairly low proportions of some professions it should be expected that the sex ratio should be changing in one direction. This is probably true for some professions although the idea that there is automatically a problem if a profession contains more people of one sex than the other is fatuous.
I shouldn't dismiss the report entirely since it does at least recognise something which has escaped the minds of those who draft government policy; If you raise the cost of employing women of child bearing age then fewer women are going to be employed:
Worryingly for a government that has prided itself in its attempts to boost equality in the workplace, experts warned that new provisions for maternity leave could be behind the unexpected backwards step.Women currently receive maternity pay for nine months and can take maternity leave for up to a year, under rights which came into force in April 2007.