The Glass Ceiling: The 20 Most Powerful Women in Britain under the Age of 35 ; They Have Made Their Mark in Business, Finance, Politics and Fashion. and, for the Most Part, They Have Made It despite, Not Because of, Their Employers. Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson Report

By Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson report | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), April 27, 2003 | Go to article overview
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The Glass Ceiling: The 20 Most Powerful Women in Britain under the Age of 35 ; They Have Made Their Mark in Business, Finance, Politics and Fashion. and, for the Most Part, They Have Made It despite, Not Because of, Their Employers. Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson Report


Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson report, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


They are the brightest and the best; role models for the worlds of business, and politics. They are young, successful, self-made, with a life outside their careers - and they are female.

Britain's most powerful women under 35 have been named and their lives reveal two surprising elements. The 35 businesswomen and executives, to be named by Management Today are as committed to raising children, climbing mountains or charity fundraising as they are to negotiating boardroom deals. Natasha Clarke, for example, is on maternity leave from her own IT recruitment agency at present, and Ruth Kelly, who at 34 is financial secretary to the Treasury, is expecting her fourth child.

But they share a second characteristic that betrays a less positive side of being a woman in business. The majority are entrepreneurs, and the reason, say business experts, is that female middle managers, frustrated by their lack of promotion options, are being forced to set up on their own. Michelle Mone, for example, survived a poverty-stricken childhood to design the Ultimo bra and found a company with a pounds 6m turnover.

Other women on the list include fashion designer Stella McCartney, Yvette Cooper, who became one of Britain's youngest female MPs and is now a government minister, and Caroline Plumb, at 24 the youngest female member of the Institute of Directors.

All were selected by a panel of experts including head-hunters, think tanks, bankers and academics. These included DeAnne Julius, former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, and Dr Val Singh and Professor Susan Vinnicombe of Cranfield University.

Entrepreneurs represent the largest group of women on the list, with nine places out of the 35. This has resulted in a "brain drain" of female talent from blue-chip businesses. BP and Ford are setting targets to ensure women are given equal opportunities to reach board level.

Official government figures show that at least half of all graduates are now women, yet fewer than eight per cent of the FTSE 100 firms have female directors and only 24 per cent of managers in the UK are women. Creative professions such as marketing, human resources and the media top the list of worst offenders for stifling women who aspire to progress above middle management. Law, finance and engineering have the best record for promoting women to board level.

Professor Vinnicombe said that many companies adopted a system of "impression management" when considering staff for top-level promotion. This extra set of criteria was used to judge the personal attributes of an employee and put women at a natural disadvantage.

"I'm not saying it's conscious discrimination but the fact is that directors clone each other," said Professor Vinnicombe, author of Women With Attitude. "The reality is that they always feel more comfortable working with a man at that level.

"The assumption is that equality has been achieved but the reality is the glass ceiling has risen further and the number of women at the top of organisations is not changing," she said. "We like to kid ourselves that a lot of places are more women-friendly, but that is not the case."

Additional reporting by Malaika Costello-Dougherty

The retailer

Lisa Morgan, 32

A former senior buyer at Dixons, where she spent five years, Morgan has spent 13 years in the video retail trade. She is about to become the deputy CEO of the Game Group, Europe's largest video game retailer with 389 stores. Morgan joined in 1997 and won a seat on the board as commercial director in 2000.

The fashionista

Maria Grachvogel, 33

A former City stockbroker who taught herself how to cut patterns. Grachvogel's G range sells in more than 50 Debenham's stores and she made her catwalk debut at Paris Fashion Week in 2000 when she persuaded Victoria Beckham to wear a pounds 3,000 dress.

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The Glass Ceiling: The 20 Most Powerful Women in Britain under the Age of 35 ; They Have Made Their Mark in Business, Finance, Politics and Fashion. and, for the Most Part, They Have Made It despite, Not Because of, Their Employers. Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson Report
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