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International Women's Day: some depressing statistics

Two reports released today show that women are still under-represented on television and in business

Two reports published today to coincide with International Women's Day yield some sobering results.

First, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010 found, predictably, that women are still unable to break into senior management, or sit on the boards of companies.

While 52 per cent of the workforce in the US is female (compared to just 23 per cent in India), women everywhere are concentrated in entry- and middle-level positions.

Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Finland had more women in top jobs than others, following legislation that makes it compulsory for public companies to ensure that 40 per cent of their board members are female. Even so, the average number of female CEOs in the WEF sample was just 13 per cent for Finland, and 12 per cent for Norway and Turkey -- the three highest-performing countries.

Women in the UK make up more than half of all graduates, yet only one in every ten FTSE board directors is a woman. Twenty-five FTSE firms have no women on their boards at all.

But perhaps it is not surprising. Quite apart from constraints of childcare (which I won't go into here), many women quoted in the WEF report cited a "lack of role models" progressing in business.

On that note, a second survey, commissioned by Channel 4, found that men outnumber women by two to one on television. Moreover, this number is disproportionately made up of young women -- a bitter-sweet vindication for various female broadcasters who have recently accused their employers of ageism. Just four in every ten women on screen are aged over 40, although six out of every ten men fall into the same age group.

Even more telling are the contexts in which women appear. They make up almost half of the actors in soaps, but when it comes to serious broadcasting, they constitute only a third. And when they do feature on news programmes, 69 per cent of the time they are discussing softer topics, such as health, culture or cookery, leaving the serious stuff to the men.

It's a rather dangerous situation: it could be argued that women on screen are sometimes used as "window-dressing" (to borrow a phrase from Caroline Flint). Their presence gives the impression of equal representation in the media, but the importance placed on their youth and appearance, and the fact that, more often than not, they do not discuss "serious" topics such as business or politics, subtly underline gender stereotypes. They also reinforce the message that there are certain spheres to which women are simply not suited.

No wonder there are so few female CEOs.

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