Composed earlier this century, the distribution of men′s and women′s jobs in the 1980s demonstrates a concentration of women in low‐paid, low‐opportunity jobs despite women having longer working lives and being better educated. Barriers to women′s progress, both attitudinal and structural are examined, with examples from banking and other industries. The role of legislation in stimulating questioning of women′s under‐representation in management positions is acknowledged, and the reasons for starting positive action programmes are explored. An explanation is given of these programmes, which are similar to the American affirmative action programmes. How positive action can break down barriers is discussed in relation to the European banks studied. It is concluded that without positive action the position of women at work will deteriorate, but that employers will increasingly become involved in the programmes, as will unions and consultants.
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