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A new report shows that sexism is alive and well in the workplace and that men continue to stereotype women - despite admitting that having a women at the helm would make little difference to their business. The HR Gateway probe demonstrates that the "old boys' club" persists in many firms, leaving women pigeon-holed in roles that undershoot their abilities. So much so that women responding to the survey said that this was a more pressing concern than work maternity rights and childcare.

And many men seem to agree. The poll shows that 37 per cent - well over a third – sympathise with the plight of women under the corporate "glass ceiling". Half said it would make no difference if a woman or a man ran the company.

Responding to the report, Caroline Slowcock of the Equal Opportunities Commission said: "Employers need to look at workplace culture to ensure that gender stereotypes do not hold female employees back from reaching leadership roles." Indeed, an earlier report by the Association of British Insurers highlighted that many women are facing a savings shortfall because of low salaries, parenting responsibilities and a lack of knowledge about the savings industry.

Jonathan Gosling, director of the Centre for Leadership Studies, says male managers need to adjust their viewpoint to get the best out of their business: "Chiefly because the talent pool would be that much larger and because gender diversity would encourage openness to other kinds of difference such as creativity. There is also evidence to show that companies in trouble appoint more women to leadership positions, including main board directorships, as one of the more consistent recovery measures."

However, many people believe that the problem of stereotyping swings both ways. Spokesman for the campaign group Fathers Direct, Jack O’Sullivan, said: "Men want to get out of stereotype boxes as much as women. Women want to be seen as business professionals, while men want employers to understand that they want, and need, to take a caring role as a father. At management level many men will be married to professional women making this a real issue for them. Employers need to realise this and act. Workplace culture needs to change."

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