Women are facing a "reinforced concrete ceiling" when it comes to securing the UK's top jobs, it has been suggested.
In its annual report, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), said that the country is experiencing a worrying trend of reversed or stalled progress in terms of the number of females in positions of power and influence.
According to the organisation, women hold fewer top posts in 12 of the 25 employment categories examined compared to last year, while representation increased in just eight areas.
"We always speak of a glass ceiling. These figures reveal that in some cases it appears to be made of reinforced concrete," stated Nicola Brewer, EHRC chief executive.
She added that the UK cannot afford to continue "marginalising or rejecting talented people" simply because they do not fit into traditional work patterns.
Established in October last year, the EHRC aims to eliminate discrimination and reduce inequality in British society.
Julie Morris, employment partner at Russell Jones & Walker, commented: "The startling lack of women in senior positions does show that discrimination remains endemic.
"However, the position is not as straightforward as employers simply refusing to promote women. Our long hours culture, the assumption that childcare remains a women's responsibility and prejudice towards those of childbearing age are all factors which explain how the glass ceiling remains firmly in place.
"The credit crunch is likely to mean that the situation gets worse before it gets better, with employers less likely to offer flexibility and to be less inclined to cope with maternity leave - arguably a knee jerk reaction to protect their bottom line".