Women still not a force in business

When is a businessman not a businessman – or businesswoman? Of course there is no absolute definition. However, it does seem likely that the study reported in your Factfile “Women who mean business” (MW September 3) stretches the term too far.

The ‘Business Choice’ universe of 7.75 million represents 39 per cent of the entire full-time working population. Such a wide definition may suit the sponsors of the survey, since most regional newspapers have a relatively flat socio-economic profile. How meaningful this universe is in terms of business decision making is another matter; the “other” unnamed survey in your article is the British Business Survey, which Ipsos-RSL has conducted for many years to identify the reading habits of senior executives who have real purchasing power.

The latest in this series conducted in 1997 did indeed show that only 18 per cent of our 1.25 million universe was female, reflecting the continuing and much reported gender imbalance in senior business positions. On the positive side, the proportion of women in the BBS universe has at least increased from the six per cent registered ten years ago.

It is a regrettable fact of life that the higher up the management spectrum you go the greater the inequality between men and women. Ipsos-RSL has just launched the 1998 European Business Readership Survey with a universe of just 400,000 top executives across Western Europe. Among this group, women make up only eight per cent of the total, although we can perhaps take some comfort from the fact that within this universe the proportion of female executives in the UK is rather higher than the European average.

Women need to play a bigger part in business, but adopting an unrealistic definition of what constitutes a businessman/woman is not the solution.

Roger Gane

Joint managing director

Ipsos-RSL

Harrow

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