03 Sep 2012

OU/BBC Series explores why women hold so few positions at the top of British Business

There’s an uncomfortable truth at the heart of British business: the vast majority of the top jobs are held by men – and it’s costing UK plc billions.

In this new Open University/BBC series Hilary Devey’s Women at the Top, haulage entrepreneur Hilary Devey goes on a mission to find out why women hold so few senior positions in Britain’s biggest companies. The series begins on Thursday 6th September at 8pm on BBC Two.

Only 5.5% of executive directorships in the FTSE 100 are held by women, yet companies with more women on the board enjoy over 42% higher returns on sales than their male only rivals and a 53% higher return on equity. Armed with these facts which indicate that mixed gender teams deliver better results, Hilary is determined find out what is stopping women from occupying more leading roles in British Business.

Throughout the series, Hilary meets a cross section of women - from those who have reached the very top, to those who have actively chosen not to aim for the very senior positions. She attempts to find out whether CEOs like herself need to do more to encourage women into senior positions, or whether it is simply the fact that women with highflying potential do not want the top jobs enough.

In addition to looking at the practical issues of maternity leave and childcare, Hilary explores some possible solutions. She meets Lord Davies to discuss the findings of his 2011 report into women on boards and his recommendation that FTSE 350 boards should aim for a minimum of 25 per cent female representation by 2015. Hilary also looks further afield at what other countries have done to make getting to the top more accessible – like Norway which has a quota system and shared parental leave.

Jessica Evans, Academic Consultant for the series and Associate Dean, Curriculum and Qualifications at The Open University said, “In this series we go on a revelatory journey with Hilary Devey who starts the programme with the belief that it is up to the women themselves to make sacrifices, and that many just lack the relentless drive needed to get to the top. But as she meets high profile business leaders, CEOs and politicians, from the UK and abroad, who are concerned about the loss of female talent to business because of the obstacles placed in the way, she is prepared for her views to be challenged. She shows us companies that have a business case for creating flexible working practices that benefit working parents. We find out that women do not have to make an impossible choice between family and a successful working life and organisations themselves benefit from mixed gender teams and female executives.”

To explore the topic further go to the OpenLearn webpage where you will find videos, articles and podcasts as well as a fun interactive game where you can test your chances of reaching the top of the career ladder by comparing your profile against other boardroom hopefuls with the Boardroom Lottery challenge. www.open.edu/openlearn/womenatthetop

Women at the Top is a co-production between The Open University and the BBC. The Executive Producer for the BBC is Dominic Crossley-Holland and the Commissioner for The Open University is Caroline Ogilvie.

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