But majority of men want women to have equal opportunities

A small group of managers, largely responsible for making recruitment decisions, continue to act as a barrier to gender equality at work, according to research from the Fawcett Society.

A survey of more than 8,000 working adults across the UK found that the majority of respondents believe that a more equal society would be better for the UK economy.

However, a separate study of 1,400 people responsible for recruitment in their organisation revealed that recruiters, or ‘barrier bosses’, were more than twice as likely (16 per cent) to be against equality of opportunity compared to the general public (7 per cent).

One in seven recruitment managers believed that they would lose out if men and women were more equal.

While the State of the Nation report found that men were more likely (86 per cent) to support equality of opportunity for women than women themselves (81 per cent), survey respondents were less positive about this actually being realised.

Six in 10 people believe that men in top jobs won’t make room for women unless they have to. Nearly half (49 per cent) of recruitment decision-makers shared this view.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “A significant minority of managers – the “barrier bosses” – are holding us back. They are the ones with the power over recruitment and their decisions are likely to be informed by their attitudes to equality.

“Whether it is conscious or unconscious bias, this is discrimination in action,” she added.

“This is bad for individual employers, because they are not recruiting or promoting the best people, and bad for the economy as they are holding women back, failing to use their skills and expertise.”

Smethers said that it was worrying that 16 per cent of the people responsible for implementing equal opportunities policies were opposed to the idea of greater equality.

The report notes the progress on gender equality that has been made in recent years, with a record number of women in work, more women on boards and the gender pay gap at its lowest level ever.

The Fawcett Society said this had clearly had an impact on the British public’s attitude towards equality of opportunity, with 70 per cent of men in particular recognising the importance of female progression for the UK economy.

However, Smethers said positive attitudes didn’t go far enough.

“Despite the fact that men are overwhelmingly pro-equality a majority of people clearly believe that when it comes to the crunch, men won’t move over unless they have to. This is why we need positive action and why quotas would make a difference,” she said.

The society is also calling for employers to use the gender pay gap reporting legislation as an opportunity to analyse gender equality in their organisations, and to invest in unconscious bias training for managers.

The full 'Sex Equality - State of the Nation' report will be published on Friday 15 January 2016