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UK businesses make slow progress when it comes to women in the boardroom

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Privately held business in the UK have made little progress towards achieving gender equality in the boardroom, new research from Grant Thornton shows.??

According to the firm's International Business Report (IBR) it is still proving difficult for women to rise to the top ranks of the business, with only 3% of such companies being lead by a female CEO. This compares to the average across the European Union of 10%.

The IBR also reveals  women occupy 23% of board positions in private companies, a marginal 2.1% increase on the figure seen in 2009. ??The UK ranks 5th of the 13 surveyed EU countries on proportion of women boardroom members, edging ahead of Spain and Italy at 22% and France at 21%. But it stil lags behind Poland, which at 31% has the highest number of women senior managers seen in the EU, and Sweden at 30%.

The UK also trails behind some of the emerging economies such as China and Brazil, where women occupy 31% and 29% of board seats respectively. Greece has made much better progress than the UK over the last two years, leaping up from 23% to 30%.

Sacha Romanovitch, head of people and skills and a member of the National Leadership Board at Grant Thornton, said: "Although the number of women in the UK's private company boardrooms has increased marginally, the progress is too slow and it is disappointing that the participation of women in senior management in privately still remains at such a low level.

"A diverse boardroom, which reflects the customer base it serves, leads to better decision-making and a sustained business performance. UK companies are losing out by not developing the potential of all the work force and we risk falling behind other economies if radical change is not taken to address this issue.

"Women today represent nearly 60% of graduates in the European Union, and girls are continuing to outperform boys at school and enter the workforce in equal numbers. This talent is currently under-utilised by the UK's PHBs and represents an opportunity to strengthen the capability and capacity of senior management. ??"It is crucial that companies look seriously at how they create an environment to realise the full potential of women wthin the workforce. Without fostering this diversity of thinking to drive business performance, the UK risks putting itself at a serious competitive disadvantage.

"Lack of suitable or affordable options for child care is a major challenge and it is notable that Sweden has significant support in this area. Life choices such as having children should not be a barrier for women to excel and progress in the work place and sufficient provisions need to be made by employers to enable all talent to progress, whatever their personal circumstances.

"Imposed quotas, such as the European Commission's proposal to require all publicly listed companies to have at least 40% of women on the boards need to be considered with care. Instead initiatives such as mentoring schemes, which showcase 'real women' senior leaders as opposed to perpetuating the 'superwoman' myth, would be helpful.It is also important for investors to question businesses on how they are going to ensure that they have talent pipelines that will generate a diverse leadership for the future."