British businesswomen facing bias, study finds

November 04, 1992|By Michele Nevard | Michele Nevard,London Bureau

LONDON -- In contrast to the apparent success women are having in the political sphere in Britain, they continue to meet heavy opposition to their advancement in the business world.

A report by the Institute of Management indicates that one of the main impediments to advancement in the business hierarchy is men's attitudes.

Claiming to be the most comprehensive study ever undertaken in the United Kingdom of women in business and industry, the institute surveyed 1,500 women managers and 800 men. The study, called "The Key to the Men's Club" and released Monday, found that nearly 20 percent of men would find it difficult to work for a woman.

And this in a country that has had one female head of government, has two women in the Cabinet and a female speaker of the House of Commons.

One-third of the women in the survey complained that they did not receive enough respect and support from their male colleagues.

As one financial analyst said, "If a woman manager does something wrong, you tend to think it's because she's a woman, not because she may be a bad manager."

The report suggests that, according to current thinking by both men and women, a woman must forsake her private life to get to the top in business.

One-third of the women surveyed were unmarried, compared with 8 percent of the men. One businessman speaking of his female manager confirmed "that her job is her life -- like most women who want to get on."

Almost 40 percent of the women managers who had taken a break from their careers to have a family were given lower-ranking jobs when they returned, the report found.

According to Susan Bell, chairman of the pro-business lobby, Women into Business, the report was "not at all surprising -- there's a glass ceiling that affects women up to a certain level."

Ms. Bell, who is on the board of five companies, said she believes that "many senior businessmen at the board and

executive levels have wives and mothers that do not work and are not familiar with women in the workplace," and thus, tend to see women only in traditional roles.

She said that dominance in the boardroom has "always been a male tradition" with "top positions being held for generations by men."

Separate research by the institute has indicated that women make up about 3 percent of senior managers in Britain and about 9 percent of managers overall.

Roger Young, director general of the Institute of Management, concurs and said the report showed that "company culture needs to change" and that "despite some progress, old-fashioned, sexist attitudes are still common and represent a real, not imagined barrier to the progress of women."

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