Records of Hansard Commission 'Women at the Top' (1990 and 1996 reports)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 106 8WAT
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      6 A boxes

Scope and Content

The archive consists of the final reports of Women at the Top (published in 1990 and 1996), various working drafts of the report, research and administrative papers for the project, minutes of the report committee, correspondence, and a progress report created five years after the initial report. There are also some publications used for research purposes or containing reviews of the 'Women at the Top' report.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Hansard Society 'Women at the Top' Commission (1988-2000) was established in 1988 to investigate barriers to women entering senior positions. The Hansard Society itself was formed in 1944 to promote the ideals of parliamentary government in an era when it was felt to be threatened by the rise of fascist and communist dictatorships. As at 2008 the Hansard Society continued to act as an independent, non-partisan educational charity which existed to promote effective parliamentary democracy. Since the 1970s organised research projects on areas relating to its aims and published the findings. One mechanism for this was the establishment of independent Commissions of Enquiry chaired by eminent parliamentarians or academics. These included commissions on electoral reform, the representation of women and the reform of the legislative process. In 1988 it held a one-day seminar at Nuffield College, Oxford, to discuss the under-representation of women in Parliament and to consider the establishment of a Commission to investigate this issue. The Society subsequently set up a Commission, chaired by Lady Howe, which examined the barriers to the appointment of women to senior occupational positions, and to other positions of power and influence and made recommendations as to how these barriers might be overcome. Members included John Banham (CBI), Vernon Bogdanor (Brasenose College, Oxford), Alex Brett-Holt (First Division Association of Civil Servants), Jean Denton (Black Country Development Corporation), Alistair Graham (Industrial Society), Wilf Knowles (Equal Opportunities Commission), Anthony Lester QC, Joe Palmer (Legal & General Group Plc), Lisanne Radice (300 Group), Gillian Shephard MP, Katharine Whitehorn (The Observer), Robert Reid (British Rail), and Kenneth Stowe (Department of Health and Social Security). Susan McRae of The Policy Studies Institute was Research Officer and Rapporteur. The Commission examined certain key areas including women in parliament, public office, the civil service, judiciary, legal profession, management, higher education, the media and trade unions. Its methods included a review of published information about women in public life and employment; interviews with senior personnel in government, business, the civil service and the professions; interviews with experts in organisations committed to increasing equality of opportunity, including the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Women into Public Life Campaign and the 300 Group; contact with companies known for good practice in the employment of women, a survey of employers on their policies and practices towards the promotion of women to senior positions; a survey of companies on the composition of their main holding and subsidiary boards.

The Commission published its initial findings in 1990 in a publication entitled 'Women at the Top' by Elspeth Howe and Susan McRae.

This was followed by three further reports:

* Women at the Top: Progress after five years (1996) by Susan McRae

* 'Women at the Top 2000: Cracking the public sector glass ceiling' by Karen Ross

* 'Women at the top 2005 : changing numbers, changing politics?' by Sarah Childs, Joni Lovenduski and Rosie Campbell


The archive was arranged into 5 series and 3 sub-series based on the original structure:

A 'Women at the Top' Report

AA 'Women at the Top - Progress after five years' report

B 'Women at the Top' Minutes and Papers

C 'Women at the Top' Research

CA 'Women at the Top - Progress after five years' research

D 'Women at the Top' Correspondence

DA 'Women at the Top' - Progress after five years' Correspondence

E Publications

Access Information

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

Acquisition Information

The archive was donated by The Hansard Society on 26 Aug 1999.

Other Finding Aids

The Women's Library Catalogue

Related Material

The Women's Library also holds the records of Elspeth Howe (7ELH). The Women's Library Printed Collections hold a number of items published by the Hansard Society relating to the status of women, including a copy of 'Women at the top 2005: changing numbers, changing politics?' by Sarah Childs, Joni Lovenduski and Rosie Campbell (Hansard Society 2005) - this was a follow up report to the 1990 and 1996 reports.