Publications / Reports

The Report of The Hansard Society Commission on Women at the Top

1 Jan 1990
Harriet Harman speaker to new Members of Parliament

The 1990 report of the Hansard Society Commission on Women at the Top identified continuing barriers to women achieving senior positions across a range of fields in the public and private sectors, and made far-reaching recommendations for further action.

The Hansard Society Commission on Women at the Top was established in 1988, with Lady Howe in the Chair and a mandate to "identify barriers to the appointment of women to senior occupational positions, and to other positions of power and influence, and to make recommendations as to how these barriers could be overcome." The Commission focused on the circumstances of women in senior positions since it was thought that change at the top, provided it extended beyond tokenism, would help all women.

The other members of the Commission included leading female and male representatives from business and industry, financial services, the civil service, politics, universities and journalism.

The Commission examined women's representation across Parliament, public office, the civil service, the legal profession including the judiciary, management, higher education, the media and trade unions.

The Commission's work included:

  • A review of published information about women in public life and employment;

  • Interviews with senior personnel in government, business and the professions;

  • Interviews with experts in organisations committed to increasing equality of opportunity, including the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Women into Public Life Campaign and the 300 Group;

  • Contact with companies known for good practice in the employment of women;

  • A survey of employers on their policies and practices towards the promotion of women to senior positions; and

  • A survey of companies on the composition of their main holding and subsidiary boards.

The Commission found that there were still formidable barriers stopping women getting to the top: of structures, of working practices, of tradition, and, above all, of attitude.

However, in its final report, published in 1990, the Commission also identified "strong evidence of what organisations can do to break down all of these barriers" and said that it would "take only a small amount of determination to make sure this country ceases to under-use nearly half of its talent."

The Commission made recommendations for further action by political parties and Parliament, the civil service, the judiciary and the legal profession, businesses, universities, trade unions and the media. Among other recommendations, the Commission said that a Speaker's Conference should be established in the House of Commons "to consider the ways in which parliamentary and party practices and procedures place women at a real disadvantage".

  • Foreword The Rt Hon Lord Barnett, Chairman, Hansard Society

  • Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Part One - Introduction

  • Part Two - Barriers to Equality

  • Part Three - The Public Realm

  • Part Four - Corporate Management

  • Part Five - Other Key Areas of Influence

  • Part Six - Strategies for Change

  • Appendices

    • The Constitutional and Legal Framework

    • A Survey of Employers

    • Women on the Board

    • Examples of Organisations in the Private Sector who have taken Equal Opportunities Initiatives

    • Organisations that Offer Help, Advice or Training in Equal Opportunities Initiatives

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