Is it a woman’s world?

For centuries men have dominated society, but is the pendulum swinging more towards women?

In 2011 the UK peer Lord Davies wrote a report calling for companies to increase the number of women on their boards of directors. At this time only 12.5 per cent of directors in FTSE 100 companies – a list of the UK’s largest companies – were women. Lord Davies set a target of 25 per cent female board representation by 2015.

Within a year the percentage of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies had increased to 15 per cent. However, some male-dominated industries, like mining, remained reticent to change or said they could not find suitable candidates. And while it has been argued that increasing female board representation improves performance and profits, some studies suggest this link has been overstated.

By March 2014 the percentage of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies was 20 per cent, but only two companies had a female chair, and another two had no female members at all.

So are men and women now more equal in the workplace? In the UK there are now almost as many women in work as there are men. The proportion of women aged 16–64 in employment rose from 53 per cent in 1971 to 67 per cent in 2013. Meanwhile, the proportion of men in work fell from 92 per cent to 76 per cent over the same time period.

Even so, women are much more likely to work in (poorly paid) part-time jobs. And a glass ceiling seems to prevent women ascending to senior positions in industry – even if the 25 per cent board representation target were reached, three-quarters of directors would still be men. The reasons are likely to be complex, ranging from deliberate or unintended sex discrimination through to the influence of domestic gender roles – it is much more likely that women will take time out to raise a family, and they still do the bulk of household chores and look after elderly sick relatives.


Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Sex and Gender’ in January 2006 and reviewed and updated in October 2014.

Statistics and maths, Careers, Medicine, Biotechnology and engineering
Sex and Gender
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development