The changing portrayal of the employment of women in British banks’ and retail companies’ corporate annual reports

by Carol A Adams and George Harte

gender the rules of society have changed shutterstock_94008751This paper examines disclosure with respect to gender and employment in the corporate annual reports of major British banking and retail companies during the period 1935-1993. Setting the disclosures in the social, political and economic context of six distinct periods, the authors suggest that the position of women in the two sectors can in part be explained by continuing patriarchal attitudes of management.

Although there is a history of equal opportunities legislation in Britain, corporate reporting with regard to the employment of women is voluntary. We consider corporate social disclosure and non-disclosure in regard to gender and employment over a 59 year period. Using a political economy perspective, our study examines disclosure and non-disclosure in the light of the social, political and economic context of the time. In this way we seek to obtain a better understanding of managerial disclosure policy and in particular the influence of patriarchy.

We begin by discussing the prior literature on corporate social disclosure on the employment of women and then outline our research method, before considering our findings.  These have been analysed according to periods determined by significant events regarding the status of women in British society.  In presenting our findings we offer an interpretation of women’s employment patterns and corporate reporting thereon, in light of the social, political and economic context of each period. In our final concluding discussion we consider the implications of our findings for efforts to improve corporate accountability on social issues and further research, calling for a more critical research approach which is less accepting of management disclosure policy and which allows both an identification of the comprehensiveness of reporting and a better understanding of the nature of reporting.

Citation for this article: Adams CA and Harte GF (1998) The Changing portrayal of the employment of women in British banks’ and retail companies’ corporate annual reports Accounting, Organizations and Society 23(8): 781–812. doi:10.1016/S0361-3682(98)00028-2

© 2016 This manuscript is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence 

Prior literature on corporate reporting on the employment of women

While there is a growing literature on the position of women in the accounting profession (e.g. Ciancanelli, Gallhofer, Humphrey & Kirkham, 1990; Loft, 1992; Kirkham & Loft, 1993), there has been relatively little research published on corporate disclosure on the employment of women. Notable exceptions are the works of Macintosh (1990) and Tinker & Neimark (1987). Macintosh offers a critical theory analysis of the ‘construction and reconstruction of an ideology of an inferior role for women in the computer workplace’ using the annual reports and accounts of IBM (Macintosh, 1990, p. 153).  Using a group of twenty students as judges, pictures of women and men were classified as either performing creative-thinking, technical-supervisory or routine-repetitive tasks.  The results indicated an underlying ideology in the firm’s reports which portrays an inferior role for women.

In an earlier paper, Tinker & Neimark (1987) analysed the corporate annual reports of General Motors over the period 1917-1976.  Drawing on a political economy framework, which emphasises the use of annual reports to “mediate, suppress, mystify and transform social conflict” (p. 72), the authors suggest that the nature of women’s exploitation alters with changes in the crises facing capitalism, with capitalist alienation being  a prime factor in the oppression of women. Using the annual reports and accounts of General Motors, Tinker & Neimark show how these were used as ideological weapons (p. 72), suggesting that accounting has a greater role in the portrayal of business performance than simply reporting ‘the facts’ of economic reality.  Following a political economy approach, which recognises the interplay between class and other forms of domination, accounting is seen to contribute to the maintenance of an ideology of oppression. Cooper & Puxty (1996), whilst recognising the important contribution of Tinker & Neimark’s work in presenting “a vigorous political awareness that working class solidarity is splintered by the State’s use of gender and race” (Cooper & Puxty, 1996, p. 299) argue that it focuses on the economic in its analysis at the expense of the social. In examining the social and political as well as the economic context, we build up a picture of women’s experiences and so hope to avoid their criticisms of Tinker & Neimark’s study for failing to allow women ‘to speak for themselves’ (Cooper & Puxty, 1996, p. 299).

Like Cooper & Puxty (1996), Crompton (1987) is also somewhat critical of the analysis of Tinker & Neimark, arguing that it overemphasises the importance of class as the explanation for the position of women, and that it plays down the importance of patriarchy. Crompton does not deny the benefits of women’s exploitation to the capitalist class, but suggests that this may result from the organisation of gender interests, specifically male domination.   In her view Tinker & Neimark offer insufficient justification for their starting point of capitalist alienation, a matter of some importance particularly where we accept that capitalism and patriarchy  can be in conflict (Walby, 1986).  Thus Crompton stresses the importance of recognising patriarchy in understanding the employment of women. Whilst these authors may disagree on the relative importance of the influences of capitalism and patriarchy on the employment patterns of women, they all recognise that both have contributed to the position of women in employment being subordinate to that of men.

Using a similar approach to previous research, we have conducted a content analysis of annual report disclosures, analysing our results by specific periods, drawing on social, political and economic developments of the time.  Our focus is on the corporate disclosure of a small sample of British clearing banks and (non-food) retail companies over the period 1935-1993.   Thus we present a longitudinal account of the extent and nature of corporate disclosure, and examine these findings in light of the social, political and economic context of the time in which they were written. We also emphasise what accounting reports fail to tell us, based on a view that what firms disclose relies not only on institutional requirements, but also political interests. Accounting can be seen as a language which can be used to legitimate corporate action, where what is not disclosed can be seen as important as that which is (see Hammond & Oakes, 1992). In analysing disclosures and non-disclosures in this way, we are able to illustrate how they support a history of the nature of women’s employment which recognises the influences of both capitalism and patriarchy. In doing so we pay particular attention to patriarchal influences.

Research Methodology

The choice of the period covered in our study was influenced by a number of factors, including our desire to go back to a time before the introduction of sex discrimination legislation.  In addition it was appropriate to begin the study a few years before the second world war, because of the change in women’s employment during that period (e.g. Cabinet Office, 1987).  Our period begins towards the end of what has been described as the ‘age of catastrophe’[1], extending through to the ‘golden age’[2], and ending in the present era of ‘decomposition, uncertainty and crisis’[3] (Hobsbawm, 1994).  It begins before the second world war, when more women entered the labour force, and extends to cover the post war boom and prosperity, the social developments leading to legislative change in the 1960s and 1970s, before concluding with the recent era of ‘new right’ reforms in Britain[4].

 Selection of the sectors and sample firms

Our research focuses on two separate and unconnected sectors of the economy.   Nowadays British women tend to be employed in the welfare services and the caring professions, banking and insurance, hotels and catering and in retail distribution (eg Pillinger, 1992).  Following discussion with researchers at the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)[5],   and review of recent empirical research studies which focused on specific sectors of the British economy, or used particular case studies (eg Collinson, Knights & Collinson, 1990; Dickens, Townley & Winchester, 1988; Jewson, Mason, Lambkin & Taylor, 1992), we selected banking and retail as our focus, particularly as clerical and retail employment have emerged as important sources of women’s employment this century, replacing domestic service and jobs in the textile industry (Dex, 1985).  In order to create a research sample of manageable proportions, given the time period covered, we narrowed this down to the higher profile, and higher employment, high street clearing banks and the multiple (non‑food) retail sector.  In the absence of adequate data on employment, firms were selected on the basis of current financial size, as measured by stock market value, with the sample selected accounting for more than 70% at the time of selection (it was not possible to trace this percentage back in time due to changes in the classification of firms in the stock market).   The focus on two sectors, while biased to those where women are employed in relatively large number nowadays, offers us the opportunity to contrast women’s experiences in different parts of the economy (see Milkman, 1987) and, as can be seen from our analysis, where women’s experiences have differed.  It does, however, limit the generalisability of our findings.

Table 1 (see end) shows the companies included in the sample, and the years for which we were able to obtain their corporate annual reports[6].

The focus on the corporate annual report

Following Adams, Coutts & Harte (1995), this paper focuses on the disclosure of equal opportunities information in the corporate annual report.  Adams et al took the view that the corporate annual report can be influential in shaping what is important in society (Burchell, Clubb, Hopwood, Hughes & Nahapiet, 1980), and is an opportunity for management to report on what, and in a manner, it sees as appropriate (Neimark, 1992).  Our study is premised on the view that employment, and the position of women are important social matters, which firms affect, and where managers can choose whether and/or how to report on performance. Corporate annual reports ‘..provide a window on management ideology regarding women…’ (Tinker & Neimark, 1987, p. 77), rather than being uninvolved descriptions of some objective reality.

Although Crompton (1987) suggests that too much emphasis can be placed on the potential for corporate annual reports to construct a world view, our acceptance of the social importance of the corporate annual report stresses its potential (rather than fact) to be influential.  Corporate annual reports can therefore be of interest as much for what they do not report, as for their actual content.  This focus on the corporate annual report is also consistent with previous social disclosure studies, since the corporate annual report is the main form of corporate communication and, particularly in the case of quoted companies, is made widely available (see, for example, Guthrie & Parker, 1989a; Gray, Kouhy & Lavers, 1995; and, Adams, Hill & Roberts, forthcoming).  Thus our study goes beyond the technical accounting statements to cover the full corporate annual reporting package[7].

The data for our study was collected by means of a form of content analysis[8]. This technique has been used widely in determining the extent and nature of corporate social reporting (see for example, Adams & Roberts, 1995;  Adams, Hill & Roberts, 1995; Gray et al, 1995; Guthrie, 1982; Guthrie & Mathews, 1985; Guthrie & Parker, 1990).  The research instrument used was based on a model developed by Adams, Hill & Roberts (1995), and is a development of the form used in Adams, Coutts & Harte (1995). Although companies in Britain are legally responsible for ensuring equality of opportunities (for some ‘minority’ groups, such as women, ethnic minorities and, most recently, disabled people) they are not required to be publicly accountable for their equal opportunities policies, activities or outcomes (except the need for a  disclosure in respect of policy towards disabled employees: Companies Act 1985, Sch. 7 para.9) (see Gray, Owen & Adams, 1996). We therefore are concerned entirely with voluntary corporate disclosure.

The citation for this paper is: Adams CA and Harte GF (1998) The Changing portrayal of the employment of women in British banks’ and retail companies’ corporate annual reports Accounting, Organizations and Society 23(8): 781–812. doi:10.1016/S0361-3682(98)00028-2

Periodisation of findings

In order to analyse the findings, and to offer some explanation for the (non) disclosure, the period 1935-1993 has been subdivided, or periodised.  This approach (see Hoogvelt & Tinker, 1978; Tinker & Neimark, 1987), enables us to consider disclosure in relation to the social, political and economic situation of each period.  Periodisation does not seek to offer specific or discrete time periods, but rather is an effort to consider our findings in relation to social, political and economic developments. For example, in the Hoogvelt & Tinker study, the periodisation was determined mainly by the dates of successive mining agreements between Delco, the Scottish transnational corporation, and the Sierra Leone Development Corporation, since these agreements reflected changes in the social relations of production. Periodisation allows us to recognise the regular resurfacing of economic and social crisis which come from social conflicts and recurrent problems of legitimacy (Puxty, 1997).  Changes in the economic and social situation in capitalist society are never fully settled, but rather follow from political awareness and action (Puxty, 1997), leading to temporary agreements and coalitions and  changes in the balance of power between interests (Lehman, 1992).  Such periodisation can be based on a materialist analysis focusing on economic issues, or on socio-political ideological developments (see Lehman (1992), who draws on Hall (1988a and 1988b)). Our periodisation differs from that of Tinker & Neimark, reflecting both the different national focus, and a basis which is less related to the general economic situation than to the development of concerns with equal opportunities for women, national governmental changes and the intrusion of the 1939-1945 war.

We begin a short time before the second world war, before covering what has been described as the ‘Golden Age’, a time of tremendous growth and transformation in society, following the end of the ‘age of catastrophe’ (Hobsbawm, 1994).  The following periodisation was used, and is developed in further detail at the beginning of each section, as appropriate:

Period                                      Description

1935-1945        from shortly before the war until the end of the war

1945-1950        coinciding with the post war Labour government

1950-1964        period of post war prosperity, and Conservative governments

1964-1970        Labour governments, growing concern for equal opportunities

1970-1979        development of equal opportunities legislation

1979-1993        Conservative governments, recession and ‘new right’ reforms

The number of disclosures found in each year, analysed according to various categories, are shown in Table 2 (at end). In recognising the subjective nature of the periodisation, our disclosure count in the following discussion includes some overlap, with dividing years being included in two periods (e.g. disclosures for 1945 are included in the count for 1935-1945 and 1945-1950). 


The recent history of women’s employment in Britain is often linked to a variety of social developments, including legislation and women’s participation in the workforce during the first world war (The Cabinet Office, 1987). In the period before the second world war, most women in Britain left the labour force permanently on getting married or with the birth of their first child (Crompton & Sanderson, 1986). Our period begins at a time of severe economic depression in Britain and most developed economies. Rising unemployment was followed by a further downturn in the economy (Alford, 1996), before the declaration of war in 1939, and the consequent central management of the economy.

There is little evidence, at this time, of the State actively encouraging women’s employment, except when there was a crisis in the labour market, such as the war threw up, and there was resistance to any legal commitment to equality of opportunity for women. For example, in 1944, at the same time as the Civil Service women’s organisations formed an Equal Pay Campaigning Committee (Cockburn, 1991), the House of Commons, on the initiative of the Conservative Reform Group, voted narrowly to give equal pay to women school teachers.  However the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, insisted on this amendment being removed (Thane, 1991). This proposed reform arose at a time when women working in engineering factories went on strike for equal pay, with the support of a number of (largely male) craft unions. However, support was less for altruistic reasons than fear of losing their jobs to women who would accept lower rates, providing an example of men abandoning patriarchal values when under economic threat. Subsequently a Royal Commission on equal pay was set up, which reported in 1946 .


While the proportion of women clerical workers in Britain increased from 2 to 20 per cent of the total in the period 1850 to 1911, the total number of clerks increased nine times from 95,000 to 843,000 (Zimmeck, 1986). Loft (1992) in commenting on Lowe (1987) highlights the political nature of attitudes to women workers:

“One of the most striking points he brings out is how firms at first used the  supposed special feminine characteristics of women to argue that they could not employ them at all, and then when they began to appreciate what a valuable cheap source of labour women could be, these same characteristics were referred to in justifying their employment in large numbers to do routine clerical work” (Loft, 1992, p. 374 on Lowe, 1987)

Yet despite the fact that employment figures indicate that their jobs were not under threat, male clerks opposed the entry of women on the grounds that they believed it would take jobs away from men, lower the wage rate for all clerks and because it would undermine patriarchy  (see Lewis, 1984 and Walby, 1986)[9]. Zimmeck (1986) notes that the threat to their manhood posed by the lack of an obvious distinction between feminine and masculine roles was dealt with by forcing one between the intellectual (which was the province of men) and the mechanical (which was the province of women). To aid the development of this distinction the myth grew that women did not want responsibility and that in any case they were unable to take the strain, but were, on the other hand, very good at withstanding monotony and meticulous with detail. Men were thought, at least by those men in control in patriarchal Victorian society, to be more intellectual, to have a broader intelligence, to be better at and better able to cope with making decisions and to be able to exercise more initiative (Zimmeck, 1986).

It wasn’t until 1907 that the first woman was appointed to the Midland Bank to translate French and German newspapers for the bank’s senior management (Midland Bank Group Archives, 1991). Further women recruits shortly after that were primarily shorthand typists forbidden to mix with the men. Their numbers had risen to 350 by 1915 when The Banker’s Magazine commented:

“Whether ladies will ever be considered for the higher posts is, for the time being, a question too revolutionary for consideration……………..” quoted in Midland Bank Group Archives (1991 p. 2).

Other banks also employed women from around that time. The Westminster reported in its 1965 corporate annual report that the first women, four ‘lady typewriters’, were appointed by the London and County Bank in 1907 and Lloyds (1962 corporate annual report) noted their “’Regulations  for Women Clerks’ dated 1910”.

Checkland (1975) suggests that the Scottish Bankers’ Association were faced with considerable difficulties recruiting to replace men fighting in the first world war, since the older men who might be recruited were ‘averse to creating trouble’ (p. 596), and so the recruitment of women was a priority. Men returning from the war to the Bank of Scotland discovered that women who had joined the Bank were not all leaving, creating a downward pressure on wages leading to an attempted strike in 1920 (Saville, 1996).

Despite the growth in the number of clearing banks during the early decades of this century, and the growth in employment of women, women were not recruited for a career, rather being seen as a second tier of the workforce intended to subsidise the promotion opportunities for male clerks (Savage, 1993). It wasn’t until 1935, that Lloyds inaugurated a new Pension Fund for women clerks “in addition, of course, to the long established pension scheme for men” (Lloyds, 1935 corporate annual report).

With the second world war, the myths regarding what women were capable of, or willing to do, were largely disproved when they were called upon to fill the gaps left by men joining the Forces. The normally stiff entry requirements for women were relaxed during the war (Snell, 1997)[10]. Barclays noted:

“We have a number of men working in the Bank as Temporary Clerks: but the vacant positions have mainly been filled by Women Clerks, who……have adapted themselves readily to working conditions in the Bank.” (Barclays, 1940 corporate annual report)

and their contribution can be clearly seen by the statement:

“In place of the men who have left us……we have engaged mainly Women Staff and a measure of the efforts which have been made to meet the new situation is afforded by the fact that, with so large a proportion of relatively new Staff in the Bank, the number of men and women employed is smaller than before the war, in spite of the increased work undertaken for the government, the large expansion in the credit balances kept with us and the growth in the number of current accounts…….” (Barclays, 1941 corporate annual report)

Despite the extensive change in the composition of the workforce in this period, we discovered few disclosures in the corporate annual reports of the banks.  Overall, as Table 2 indicates, disclosure in the 11 year period, 1935-1945, was extremely limited. In the years before the war we saw only one bank refer to gender and employment in one of the four years (Lloyds 1935 corporate annual report, see above), although disclosure increased in the war years, with five banks disclosing in seven years. Although some reference was made to the efficiency of the fewer employees, including large numbers of women, (see Barclays 1941 corporate annual report above), in the main the disclosures indicated the need to recruit women and the temporary nature of their replacement of men.


During the 1930s the retail sector was showing signs of stagnation, being affected by economic decline and reduced personal incomes. Although the level of hire purchase credit had multiplied twenty fold since 1918 (Benson, 1994), the declaration of war in 1939 led to restrictions on the development of the sector due to rationing and central control of essential commodities (Channon, 1978). Jefferys (1954) suggests that more women became involved in the sector as the increase in packaged goods and mechanical aids in shops led to a ‘deskilling’ of the workforce. However, retailing has a long history of job-gendering, with men dominating in management and particularly likely to be associated with selling products and services which require ‘expertise’.

As with the banks, disclosure by retail companies was limited.  Prior to 1940 we did not find any disclosure, and in the five years 1941-1945 we noted only seven, despite the much longer tradition of female employment in retailing.  Figures from the Ministry of Labour Gazette show that as early as 1935 the proportion of women involved in distributive trades (which includes retail) in Great Britain and Northern Ireland was 39% (increasing to 47% in 1950 and 52% in 1960).  Evidence from our review of the corporate annual reports confirms that women were employed in large numbers before 1939, but not in positions of responsibility.   For example Woolworths noted that:

“A very large proportion of our trained men are now with the Services, and we depend more and more on women to take over responsibilities of management and other duties, and they have done, and will I am sure continue to do, a wonderful job of work. It will interest you to know that the men remaining in our employ represent only 3 per cent. of our total employees to-day.” (Woolworths, 1940 corporate annual report)

As this quote illustrates the position changed to some extent with the war. British Home Stores (1941 corporate annual report) indicates that ‘women and girls’ were employed in large numbers before the war and their 1943 report indicates that they relied on older women, perhaps those who had worked with them before having a family, to make up the shortfall during the war, although not necessarily in management tasks:

“We have naturally had to depend more and more upon the efforts of our women and girls, who have responded magnificently to the increased responsibilities which they have had to shoulder.” (British Home Stores, 1941 corporate annual report)

“Again, the running of our business would have been well nigh impossible without the good work of so many of the older women, including those engaged on a part-time basis….” (British Home Stores, 1943 corporate annual report)

And, although Marks and Spencer had a pre war staff of 20,000, only 1,500 men had joined the Forces by 1943, again pointing to the likely large numbers of women in the workforce:

“In co-operation with the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Supply, we have been able to divert large numbers of our women staff into Royal Ordnance factories. ……Our girls (sic) are able to work together as a team and are making their contribution to War production.” (Marks and Spencer, 1942 corporate annual report)

“Over 1,500 of our men have joined H.M. Forces……… Of our pre-war staff of 20,000, only 3,000 are still with us……..Our present full-time labour force numbers some 9,500.” (Marks and Spencer, 1943 corporate annual report)

There seems little doubt that the primary motivation for disclosure on women’s employment in both sectors in this period was the role they performed during the war.  Management in both sectors has illustrated the sacrifice for the war effort and firms’ adaptability. Although this indicated opportunities for women, the pattern was different in the two sectors.  In the case of retailing women were already quite well established, in numbers if not in authority, whilst in banking women were hardly represented before the war, and their introduction is portrayed as temporary, despite the potential financial advantages of exploiting women further in both sectors. The disclosures made highlight that management was clearly impressed by the abilities of women to work at all, in the case of the banking sector, and to work in positions of responsibility, in the case of the retail sector. However, the patriarchal society at the time was not ready for such radical moves as increasing the number of women in banking or putting women in positions of responsibility in the retail sector. Perhaps management was concerned that the introduction of more women, particularly in banking, could have encouraged the formation of independent trade unions by male employees or adverse public reaction if they failed to re-employ returning male soldiers. The absence of an economic imperative is surprising given the competitive situation in the two sectors at the time. Despite lack of opportunity for increasing revenues in both sectors, given limited competition between the banks and controls on retailing, in neither case did firms seem to be interested in reducing costs by expanding the female workforce, again pointing to the influence of patriarchy.


Following the second world war, the Labour government introduced a radical programme of nationalisation and social welfare legislation, in an attempt to rebuild British society. The State was apparently keen to keep some women in paid employment after the war due to labour shortages (Thane, 1992). In the decade after the war more women remained in paid employment until they had their first child (though not in banking where women were forced to leave on marriage), with many returning after time taken off to have a family, despite the fact that (male) incomes were sufficiently high to enable a family to live off a single income (Lewis, 1984; Thane, 1992). The proportion of women working who were married increased, from 16% in 1931 to 40% in 1951 (source Hakim, 1979 reported in Lewis, 1984) due, in part, to an increase in the number of households with gas, electricity and labour saving devices (Lewis, 1984). However many of these returning women worked part‑time and outwith the primary labour market (other than in the social welfare and related professions) (Thane, 1992, drawing on Myrdal & Klein, 1970), and there was also evidence of male employers’ opposition to any flexibility to meet the needs of women (Thane, 1992).  In contrast, there appears to have been growing women’s activism in the workplace, in trade unions and in the Labour Party during this period (Cockburn, 1991), although there is evidence that the Trades Union Congress (TUC)  was more concerned with protecting male salaries (Walby, 1986).

The Royal Commission on Equal Pay reported in 1946. It observed that opportunities for women were largely limited to routine clerical work and that further progress was hindered by limited training opportunities (Midland Bank Group Archives, 1991). The Labour government of the period supported its conclusion that equal pay, although desirable, could wreck the country’s economic recovery from the war (Thane, 1994).  In addition the British Employers Confederation outlined a case for gender divisions of labour, based on efficiency, flexibility, ambition, time off, physical strength, tolerance of monotonous work and commitment to a career (Thane, 1991).  The trade unions, on the other hand, were opposed to government interference,  preferring progress to equal pay by collective bargaining. Despite this opposition to equal pay, together with the Whitley Council Report on Marriage Bars, which was published in the same year, these events can be seen as an early development in the process of institutional change, although in practice little changed until the 1950s (Crompton & Sanderson, 1990).


After the war banking continued to be a highly concentrated and centralised sector, closely regulated by the State, but offering steady growth and profitability in the absence of competition. As a consequence of this stability, employers were able to offer more or less life time employment (for men), structured careers, orderly industrial relations and paternalistic, welfare-oriented personnel policies (Storey, 1995). Nevertheless, recruitment in banking in the late 1940s and 1950s was ‘gendered’, where women were recruited to ‘women’s’ jobs, while men expected a career  (see Crompton, 1989). The proportion of female employment in the banks grew due to increasing mechanisation of the business (Checkland, 1975) although a Midland Bank committee on staff recruitment recommended that women’s entry  to the permanent staff should be largely restricted to the London area, involve a six months probationary period, a ‘reasonable’ education standard, be restricted to unmarried women and (normally) those between 16 and 30 years of age (Midland Bank Group Archives, 1991).

Disclosures in bank corporate annual reports in this six year period were quite limited, with only four disclosures noted.  Although there was acknowledgement of women’s achievements during the war years, the banks appear to have been keen to revert to the pre-war position.  Thus we found statements of appreciation:

“Our satisfaction at the return to normal staffing conditions is tempered by the regret we have at parting with many of the temporary clerkesses who gave splendid service throughout the war.” (Bank of Scotland, 1947 corporate annual report)

as well as a commitment to the retraining of returning men for positions of responsibility which had been held by women in their absence:

“Our chief concern in the process of re-absorption from the Forces has been to provide returning men with the concentrated training or re-training necessary to fit them, after an absence in many cases of six years or more, for the work in the Bank, and further, to give them proper opportunities for the exercise of personal qualities developed during war service.” (Midland, 1946 corporate annual report)

Typically through this post war period, women and men recruits went through different induction periods and men were either not recruited for machine (electric adding machines) work at all (as in the National Provincial Bank) or, they passed through the machine room very quickly (as in the Westminster Bank) (Crompton, 1989).  And as the expressions of gratitude above have illustrated the involvement of these women was ‘temporary’, and does not seem to have stretched to managerial functions. The regret expressed by the Bank of Scotland at women’s departure has to be seen in the context of the absence of any concern expressed about the restrictive recruitment policies and different training periods. Again, the banks are seen to quietly acquiesce to such patriarchal influences, neither highlighting the injustice to women nor the potential gains from recruiting more from this cheap labour source.


The retail sector continued to face restrictions after the war. Rationing which continued into the mid 1950s and legal restrictions on building were major constraints. Thus, as in banking there was also stability with few, if any, bankruptcies (Jefferys, 1954). It did mean however, that competition was only possible by cutting wage costs (Havenhand, 1970).

Retail disclosures also amounted to four in six years. The efforts of the women in their roles of increased responsibility during the men’s absence were acknowledged, albeit in a patronising manner, and one which indicated that men were being restored to their managerial positions:

“During the war years many of our girls (sic) managed stores very satisfactorily. They have now assumed alternative positions of responsibility thus allowing the returning Service men to take over their managerial positions again.” (British Home Stores, 1947 corporate annual report)

The following year’s BHS claim of opportunities for promotion for both female and male trainees, refers to ability and merit, yet it wasn’t until 1968 that a woman reached senior management in this firm (BHS 1968 corporate annual report).

Although such disclosure again confirms the temporary nature of women’s involvement it also raises the question of whether women were given greater responsibility in contrast to banking.  Indications are that it was much more common for women to be employed in retailing before the war, and so their temporary replacement of men during the war was much more likely to be at managerial levels, than was the case in the banks.  However as the BHS 1947 corporate annual report indicates they were now taking “alternative” positions of responsibility.

Generally, corporate annual reports around this time indicate that the companies themselves, whilst congratulating women on their war efforts, appear to have made little effort to retain them, and in fact removed them from positions of responsibility.   This despite the apparent financial benefits available from their employment as a cheaper source of labour, and the apparent absence of strong (male) trade unions in either sector which might have been expected to object to such practices.  Given the limited opportunities for competition in both sectors, this failure to improve profitability by recruiting more women at lower wages points to the influence of patriarchy. To a great extent women became invisible once more, with little reporting of the quantity or quality of their contribution to the labour force.  Equally, though not surprisingly given accounting’s general disregard for ‘externalities’, we see no reporting of the consequences for women who were paid-off after the war. A corporate thank you from a male management seems likely to have been inadequate compensation, particularly for those who lost wage earning partners in the war.


The Conservative government from 1951 pursued policies similar to those of the previous Labour government (Pearce & Stewart, 1992; Gamble, 1994). This was a period of continued growth, low inflation and full employment, though of relative economic decline in Britain (Alford, 1996). However, growing prosperity was not matched by significant social policy developments.   The post-war politics of ‘fair shares’ and security was replaced with a growing prosperity,  growing migration within the country, and greater personal consumption on televisions and motor cars (Bartlett, 1977).  Labour shortages encouraged more women to enter the labour force, as the extracts from the corporate reports of the period indicate, in part assisted by the development of equipment for use in the home and the desire to increase incomes. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, men were generally recruited to careers and women to jobs which they left on marriage or certainly prior to childbirth (Crompton, 1989). Women managers remained a novelty, although the Conservative government introduced equal pay in the civil service, in 1955.  In contrast the trade unions appear to have retained a preference to handle matters through collective bargaining, and it was not until 1967 that the TUC made a formal commitment to equal pay, as part of its strategy for women (Cockburn, 1991).  What was emerging was a pattern of women’s employment which was to remain with us to the 1990s (Thane, 1991), whereby women were returning to the workforce after having had a family, yet remaining severely disadvantaged as a result of years away from work and previous recruitment to jobs rather than careers.


By the late 1950s women comprised 40% of the jobs in the London clearing banks (Egan, 1982). More women and young male apprentices were being recruited to replace male tellers, as the banks failed to compete with other professions in recruiting men in a time of fast expansion of employment (Munn, 1988). Women were also being recruited as machine operators.

In its 1960 corporate annual report, the Midland reported that for several years up to 1957, the number of people it employed was rising at an annual average rate of 2% with an acceleration thereafter to an increase of 10% in the previous year. The additional losses expected to arise from the use of poorer quality staff apparently did not materialise, as the women and young male apprentices were as efficient as their older male counterparts.  Yet it appears that, except for the first few years of service,  women were paid less than men, few were promoted, and although they could do the professional examinations, this was not actually encouraged by the banks (Munn, 1988) further limiting women’s promotion prospects.  What appears to have been a policy of alternative recruitment forced on banks following their failure to compete for male staff, resulted in financial benefits, and may have been the encouragement that was needed to expand female recruitment, as technological changes led to an increase in the level of employment (Crompton & Sanderson, 1994).  Similarly this may also go some way to explaining the dropping of the marriage bar in the sector in the mid 1950s.

During this 15 year period 16 disclosures were made by banks,  many of which emphasised the continued recruitment of women to jobs and men to careers  (Crompton, 1989). This is reflected in disclosures such as National Provincial’s 1954 corporate annual report, Lloyds’ 1954 and 1955 corporate annual reports and even as late as Lloyds’ 1962 corporate annual report.  The 1954 corporate annual report of National Provincial provides an early indication of the likely change in balance of the workforce, yet a clear commitment to men, who were being groomed for managerial positions:

“It seems likely that the development of electronic bookkeeping will evolve methods of dealing with some at least of the great number of entries which the Bank is called upon to handle. Looking ahead it is reasonable to visualise further changes in the staffing structure of the Bank. Almost certainly the number of ladies on our staff will increase, while the number of men may quite possibly tend to fall. If this be so it will become more important than ever before to ensure that every boy who joins the staff is of the material to become a manager and that he has ample opportunity to study banking in all its aspects.

To this end we have for some years maintained a Staff Training College through which many hundreds of men have passed……….We are now making such facilities available to younger men……

I am glad to report that young men are recognising that banking offers prospects of a happy and useful career with plenty of opportunity……..” (National Provincial, 1954 corporate annual report).

Similar concerns with the managerial opportunities for men is seen in Lloyds 1954 corporate annual report, where it is implied that very few women choose to stay in banking  as a career:

“It may surprise some to learn that in spite of this great expansion in what has been called our “ledger-keeping” activities, and the larger number employed in the specialised offices, our male staff is smaller than before the war. On the other hand there are many more managerial posts to  be filled. ……..For our officials, these trends hold out the prospect of wider opportunity and accelerated promotion.  For the bank, they emphasise the need to attract men of the right calibre and develop their technical qualifications……..We have been able to handle a substantial growth of turnover without adding to the male staff because of two closely-related developments………The first of these is the greatly increased use of machinery.  Some 500 of our branches are now fully mechanised, nearly 300 of them since 1938……The second trend is the expansion in our female staff which has almost trebled over the period. In 1938 we had about four men to every woman; to-day the numbers are moving towards equality. I do not imply that our women staff are engaged solely in routine work. But there are comparatively few who remain in business as a career: most stay only a few years with us. To those who choose to stay with the bank and are suitably qualified we can offer a permanent career, with pension, as secretaries, cashiers……” (Lloyds, 1954 corporate annual report)

In 1955 Lloyds indicated that “several” women had moved into managerial or supervisory work, although it is unlikely that their wages and conditions were the same as for men.  In fact the suggestion is that greater employment of women creates better opportunities for those men employed by the bank, to fill managerial positions:

“At 31st December last, over 10,000 men and 8,000 women were working in the bank. Of the men, 1 in 3 of those aged 28 and upwards occupied a managerial or supervisory post; this proportion will increase as we move further with our policy of employing a greater number of women. They give us good service, and in some districts we have waiting lists of those anxious to enter the bank. Several women have reached the equivalent of managerial or supervisory rank.

Of the men, I would say the scale of salaries, even for those who remain on purely routine duties, compares favourably with that for similar employment elsewhere.  For the young man with ability and ambition, an attractive level of salary is reached at an early age and many of them are appointed to management in their early thirties.” (Lloyds, 1955 corporate annual report)

By 1962 the numbers of women employed by Lloyds amounted to almost 12,000, approximately 50% of the total figure, although almost half of these were under the age of 19.

“Nearly all men joining the staff attend a four to six weeks’ course at our Training Centre….Of men joining the bank one out of two is likely to be promoted to managerial or other positions of responsibility.

Our bank was one of the first to employ women and in our records is a paper headed ‘Regulations  for Women Clerks’ dated 1910. Today women have increasing opportunities for promotion and a large number occupy positions of considerable responsibility. Although it is not necessary for a woman to leave the bank’s service on marriage, the majority do. It is noteworthy that over five thousand of the women staff are under nineteen years of age and that only three thousand five hundred are over twenty-five years of age. The work of those women who make the bank their career is most valuable and I hope to see more of them move into senior positions.” (Lloyds, 1962 corporate annual report)

The proportion of women employed in other banks was also increasing. The Midland (1960 corporate annual report) noted that women accounted for two out of every five employees, the Westminster (1964 corporate annual report) that in the younger age groups women outnumbered men, and in 1965 Lloyds (1965 corporate annual report) reported that the total staff of the bank was 13,299 men and 13,448 women.  Women were now in the majority, but the nature of their work had been clearly distinguished from men’s. The disclosures clearly show that they were employed in increasing numbers to do the routine work which had increased due to the expansion of ledger-keeping activities and the advent of electronic bookkeeping. The disclosures also suggest that the banks did little or nothing to encourage career development for women, even appearing to suggest that this was due largely to female choice (for example see Midland 1964 corporate annual report below).  There also appears to have been little change in the commitment to develop male careers as this disclosure illustrates:

“It is now more important than ever that our younger men should be given every opportunity to develop fully their abilities and personalities. The proportion of men to total staff continues to decline and in consequence a greater proportion of male staff will be required to fill an increasing number of managerial and other executive positions. The opportunities for our younger men are greater than they have ever been, and promotion will tend to come at an earlier age.” (National Provincial, 1956 corporate annual report)

Concern with the position of male employees is reflected not only in the emphasis placed on the training of young men, but also on their career development:

“In order to improve the system of training, incentive and selection for promotion we have, in the past year, established a “special grade” into which young men of proved and exceptional promise may be placed for purposes of intensive experience and instruction.” (Midland, 1958 corporate annual report)

Later there appeared to be some, though not equal concern with the position of women.  In 1960 the Midland introduced a separate ‘Proficiency Grade’ for its women staff. The Proficiency Grade was restricted to women aged over 24 years, with a minimum of five years experience who had completed Part One of the Institute of Bankers examination  and who would complete Part Two within a reasonable period after transfer to the new grade (Midland Bank Group Archives, 1991). The bank’s concern to improve the position of women is, however, undermined by a statement in 1964:

“Young men of special aptitude can qualify for the ‘Special Grade’. This makes them eligible for accelerated training (and an immediate substantial increase in salary) leading, in turn, to enhanced prospects of promotion at an earlier age than those, who, perhaps, develop their abilities later.

Young women can enter a ‘Proficiency Grade’ designed to create equal opportunities, carrying equal pay, for those who are prepared to accept the same standards of qualifications and performance  as are applied to their male colleagues. Women selected for the ‘Proficiency Grade’  are immediately transferred to the same scale of salaries as men. Those who are suitably qualified then become eligible for consideration for all appointments, including managerial, carrying identical salaries for men holding similar appointments.” (Midland, 1964 corporate annual report)

Those women who were over 24 and who had not reached the Proficiency Grade were on a lower salary scale than their male counterparts (Midland Bank Group Archives 1991).

In addition to implying that women did not want to achieve as much as men, the banks were very keen to mention individual successes by women:

“We have opened a number of new branches during the year, including one in the West End of London under the management of a member of our women staff, Miss E. M. Harding. This interesting experiment has been hailed in some quarters as a portent, as indeed in a sense it is, but it may also be regarded as a natural and perhaps somewhat belated recognition that the holding of responsible posts in contact with our customers is no longer necessarily an exclusively male preserve.” (Barclays, 1958 corporate annual report)

Such emphasis implies that women could develop careers if they wanted to, although very little  indication is given of the success of women overall.  Miss Harding presumably was not one of many successful women employees.

The substantial increase in bank disclosures in the period, some as we have seen of considerable length, appears to have reflected the economics of technological change, and the need to recruit a large number of staff for mainly routine work. Technological change can be equated with progress and more women employees meant better (management) opportunities for men. Such recruitment and disclosure might be said to reflect the financial pressures on management, yet in contrast the continued preference for male managers and the recruitment of male trainees suggests the continuation of patriarchal values.  The period is also characterised as being the beginnings of trade unionism in banking[11].


The 1950s and early 1960s saw significant developments in the retail sector. The end of controls (particularly on building and of rationing), combined with a growth in suburban estates, expansion in car ownership and rising real incomes saw a growth in unit size (Charnley, 1972; Winstanley, 1994). In addition the new consumerism was boosted by the advent of the first commercial television channel in 1955, colour supplements, and the abandonment of resale price maintenance in 1964 (Charnley, 1972; Winstanley, 1994).

In contrast to the greater disclosure in bank corporate annual reports, we noted only one disclosure by retail companies in the 15 years 1950-1964.  In contrast to the banks there was no indication of the need to adapt to new technology.  Yet as in the case of  the banks, retail companies were keen to attract young men to careers during the 1950s.  For example :

“It is not always realised what a variety of opportunities this firm can offer to young men. In addition to the opportunities on the technical side of our business, there are attractive careers in selling – retail, wholesale and export – and in such fields as Publicity, Buying and general business administration. …………..For the special training of candidates who show promise of reaching senior rank, we have organised a training course, candidates for which are chosen irrespective of their background…” (Boots, 1955 corporate annual report)

Unfortunately ‘background’ does not appear to include gender.

The emphasis here is clearly very different from that in banking. At the beginning of the period, banking was dominated by men, and the response was to improve the managerial opportunities for men while simultaneously increasing the recruitment of women. In retail, on the other hand, women constituted the majority of employees, many of whom worked part-time (Scott, 1994), and the emphasis was on attracting men for managerial and responsible positions. In banking the emphasis was on training young men for senior management.  This reassurance of the opportunities for men was more important in banking where the proportion of women was increasing. It suggests that patriarchal influences remain an explanation for the limited managerial involvement of cheaper women.  Similarly, while there would appear to have been financial incentives to increase the involvement of women in retail management, there was little or no indication that this happened in the period.  The one disclosure traced in the retail sector similarly emphasised male opportunities.  Overall the disclosures indicate that whilst an economic imperative is recognised by management in both sectors for the recruitment of most (non-managerial) staff, when it comes to managerial recruitment the influence of patriarchy can be seen. Yet even in respect of non-managerial staff, there are indications that even within this broad category women may have suffered from the preference to place men in certain positions, drawing on their apparent image of expertise or authority (Broadbridge, 1991; Scott, 1994). None of the annual reports, in either sector, offer an insight into this practice. Management chose to say nothing of the consequences of their employment policies in a growing retail sector.

The nature of disclosures by the banking sector, with their focus on the changing nature of work due to the increased use of technology, the resulting expansion of women’s employment and the deepening segregation of women’s and men’s work point to an explanation for the lack of disclosure in the retail sector.  Changes in employment patterns in the retail sector were not so dramatic. Women were already employed in large numbers and segregation of men in management positions was well established.


The period 1964-1970 saw the election of the first Labour government since the 1945-1951, post war administration.  Although committed to an expansionist and interventionist policy of technical revolution (Pearce & Stewart, 1992), economic crises, and particularly the devaluation of the pound in 1967, led to an abandonment of such goals and severe public expenditure cuts (Gamble, 1994). Yet at the same time pressure for civil rights developed. The government’s election manifesto committed it to the principle of equal pay for equal work (Chiplin & Sloane, 1976) and although the British Equal Pay Act was not introduced until 1970, this period saw the development of greater concern with the position of women on both sides of the Atlantic.  In Britain legislation was introduced in regard to race (the Race Relations Act, 1966) only, not gender, during this period, although further social legislation reflected the changing nature of the society (eg the Married Women’s Property Act 1964, the Abortion Reform Act 1967 and the Divorce Reform Act 1969).  Yet the 1964-70 period also saw the Labour government fail to arrange an agreement between the employers and the unions on equal pay, with the former seeking a strict ‘equal pay for equal work’, rather than for work of the same value (Thane, 1991).  In 1968 the Donovan Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations concluded that attitudes toward the employment of women was a continuing weakness of British management (Thane, 1991). However, although the TUC was said to be a long term supporter of equal pay, it continued to favour collective bargaining rather than legislation as the means to a solution, thus leaving disputes to be resolved in the workplace, where male interests might preclude change. Although a government publication of the day (Women in Britain, 1964) stated that ‘the full participation of women in industry, in the professions and in all kinds of public administration, is today accepted as a normal feature of the national way of life’, this claim did not bear close examination.  Women were excluded from the Stock Exchange and (if married) from the Foreign Service, were poorly represented in many jobs and professions, and were being paid about half the wage of men.

Yet overall there was a different attitude to women’s employment developing, in contrast to that at the end of the war (Dex, 1988), even though up to this point there had been relatively little women’s activism (Thane, 1994). Women had been becoming a more significant proportion of the total workforce gradually since 1945, but their recognition as employees is said to have come about quite suddenly in the late 1960s (Dex, 1985).


Between the end of the second world war and the mid 1970s the banking industry expanded, as more people opened bank accounts (Savage, 1992), with a significant rise in branches from 10,886 in 1960 to 12,315 in 1968 (Morris, 1986).  The nature of banking had also been changing, with increased mechanisation, computerisation and changes in the type of staff needed (Crompton & Jones, 1984). Yet during this period there remained a clearly gendered division of labour, where female and male staff were recruited into different grades (with different ceilings for increments, the absence of pensions for women, an expectation that women would retire on marriage and poor promotion prospects in the clerical grades occupied mainly by women) (Savage, 1992). Boyden (1986) highlights this with the reproduction of banks’ recruitment adverts, which illustrate their segregated recruitment policies. Women comprised approximately half the workforce in the London clearing banks (Egan, 1982),  although this growth in women’s employment was mainly in low grade clerical work, and computer related jobs (Crompton & Sanderson, 1994). Even in the late 1960s, although women were now in the majority, they were expected to leave employment on marriage and could expect little chance of promotion (Halford, Savage & Witz, 1997).

During the period 1964-1970, disclosures by the banks amounted to nine in seven years.  Despite the growing awareness of the position of women it seemed that in this period, at least as far as one of the banks was concerned, equality for women was not really an issue:

“Our Staff College…….has been most useful in training staff at all levels from young men in their first year of service up to and including Branch Managers…….” (Royal Bank of Scotland, 1967 corporate annual report)

The National Commercial Bank of Scotland claimed to have appointed the first female Bank Manager in Scotland in1964 – to head their new Ladies Branch – and the 1967 corporate annual report of the National Provincial contains some news clippings, including one claiming:

“The NP struck a blow for female equality in October last year with a new pay and promotion deal which enabled women staff members to take their place for the first time alongside men as branch managers…..” (National Provincial, 1967 corporate annual report)

Yet the position of women appeared to improve more in terms of quantity of jobs than necessarily positions of responsibility.  The 1965 Westminster report referred to earlier had contrasted the position with 1907:

“Only men were employed until 1907 when the London and County Bank took on four lady “typewriters”.  With the change over to mechanisation more and more women were taken on the staff so that today in the younger age groups they outnumber the men” (Westminster, 1965 corporate annual report).

It seems reasonable to interpret this as indicating that the higher levels of responsibility continued to be occupied by male staff, almost entirely.  Certainly by 1967, while there was approximately 76,000 women working in the London clearing banks, 99% were routine clerical staff, and less than 1% of the 10,000 managerial posts were held by women (Heritage, 1983).


Growth in the retail sector continued in the 1960s. The 1964 Resale Prices Act had ended the practice of resale price maintenance (Shafto, 1977), thus increasing competition, and by 1966 10% of sales were on credit (Benson, 1994). However, the government’s preference to stimulate manufacturing saw the introduction of a selective employment tax in 1966, affecting mainly service industries and putting pressure on wage costs.

Retail disclosures amounted to only seven in the seven year period.  Although managerial careers in retail never acquired the same status as their counterparts in other sectors (Scott, 1994), it is apparent that women got into supervisory positions much quicker  and in larger numbers, than in the banks:

“We have a Staff Manageress in each store, one of whose tasks is to administer our health and welfare schemes with understanding and common sense…………We believe that our staff come to us more for a career than for a job. That many do is borne out by the large number who have been with us for most of their working lives.” (Marks and Spencer, 1965 corporate annual report)

“…..many hundreds of women who started their career with us as sales assistants now hold supervisory positions in the stores and in the administration and buying departments in our Head Office.” (Marks and Spencer, 1966 corporate annual report)

However it appears  that it was just as difficult for women to get into top management positions in the retail sector as it was in the banks. The first woman to reach top management level in British Home Stores didn’t get there until 1968 and her job was one perhaps seen as more becoming of women, than, say, finance, publicity or buying would have been. Even so, the company still apparently felt the need to justify the appointment to the outside world:

“…….we also appointed…….Miss P. Downs, who is a personnel controller in charge of our female staff. We……congratulate Miss Downs in particular on being the first woman in our business to have attained top management level. For a business whose customers are predominantly women this seems a most logical step.” (British Home Stores, 1968 corporate annual report)

No comment was made on how difficult it had been or how long it had taken to reach this position, nor regarding the more general position of women in senior management.

Yet, despite some getting into management, women were likely still to be regarded as a cheap labour source, a large proportion of whom worked part-time:

“Government policy, in discriminating against the retail trade, fails to encourage those methods which are most likely to increase productivity in distribution – namely:-……the employment of part-time staff who make a valuable contribution to the efficiency of the store and to the national man(sic)power policy;……..” (Marks and Spencer, 1967 corporate annual report)

 Our review of disclosures in both sectors during this period revealed surprisingly few developments in employment practice and reporting.  Although this may reflect the economic and social uncertainties of the period, the growth in women’s employment could be seen to demand greater comment by management. Despite isolated examples in both sectors the overwhelming impression is that women were involved (increasingly in the banks), albeit only up to a certain level.  Despite general claims of concern there is little evidence which would indicate a genuine management concern with equal opportunities. The suggestion is that both in the actual disclosures and in the absence of comment expressing concern about women’s employment rights, the growth in women’s employment arose for economic reasons rather than management willingly abandoning patriarchal values. Despite increasing intolerance in some sections of society and concern regarding the position of women, there was no reporting attempting to reveal the extent to which women were disadvantaged. The limited reporting indulging in bland statements and anecdotal evidence may reflect the influence of the forthcoming equal pay legislation with companies unwilling to highlight the extent of disparity between women and men’s employment and thus the possible costs of compliance.


The 1970s saw a period of considerable industrial unrest, political instability and economic crises in Britain. We were entering an era which has been described as one of decomposition, uncertainty and crisis, following the previous ‘Golden Age’ (Hobsbawm, 1994).  The collapse of fixed exchange rates in 1971 was followed in 1972 by a miners’ strike, a state of emergency and power cuts. Further industrial action followed in 1973, culminating in the three day week, and oil prices quadrupled. Prices and wages spiralled, with inflation at 27% in 1975. By 1976 the Labour government had abandoned the goal of full employment and sterling was in crisis. Unemployment rose sharply. By 1978 industrial unrest had returned in what has been described as the ‘winter of discontent’. The post war period of peace and relative prosperity, when incomes and prices rose, appeared to be coming to an end (Youngson, 1976). However, the global economic crises of the 1970s was only one of three challenges to the State, along with citizenship rights and representation (Gamble, 1994).

By 1971 the labour force participation rates of women in their forties were as high as for women in their early twenties (Crompton & Sanderson, 1986). Increasingly women were re-entering the labour force after having had a family, and it was at this time that we saw the first legislation to combat discrimination against women, the Equal Pay Act 1970, which was followed by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975[12]. Together they had a direct impact on employment policies of organisations.

The Equal Pay Act requires that if an employee is doing the same or broadly similar work as another employee of the opposite sex (or work which is seen to be of equal value under a job evaluation scheme), that person is entitled to equal pay and treatment.  However, employers were allowed five years notice before the legislation came into force, enabling them, in the views of some, to segregate female and male employment further, making it more difficult to show that women and men were doing similar work (Labour Research Department, 1993).  Despite this, women’s earnings rose from a previous 60%, which had been the case up to the late 1960s, to 70% of men’s earnings, a figure which had been increasing slightly, despite subsequent recessions (Ruberry & Tarling, 1988).  There appeared to be less institutional opposition to equal opportunities at the time (Walby, 1986), with trade unions in particular actively campaigning for equal pay from the mid 1960s onwards.

The 1975 Act set up the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) with the aim of  eliminating sex discrimination, promoting equal opportunities between the sexes and monitoring both the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act[13].


From the mid 1970s the banks were faced with major restructuring due to competition from building societies and the general deregulation of financial services (Savage, 1992).  As a result the subsequent growth in centralisation meant a growth in the managerial hierarchy, but a reduction in the authority of branch managers (Savage, 1992).  Since this appears to have coincided with women attaining this level of management, this may support Legge’s (1987) suggestion that women can play a central role so long as it remains peripheral to central management. Women’s involvement was confined to middle management, not to positions of authority (Savage, 1992). Education was instrumental in this progress. In its 1965 corporate annual report, the Westminster reported a policy allowing educated women to compete with men for higher level jobs. Barclays also highlighted the growing weight attached to education in its 1971 corporate annual report when it reported that its staff won six of the ten prizes awarded for completion of the final exams of Institute of Bankers  and that the six were divided equally between women and men. This was indeed worthy of report at a time when women constituted only 1.2% of the membership of the Institute of Bankers (Chiplin & Sloane, 1976). Given evidence that women were actively dissuaded from taking the Institute of Bankers exams (see Crompton & Jones, 1984, Llewellyn, 1981 and Munn, 1988) this reporting on the successes of a few women can be seen as an effort to hide the banks’ attempts to hinder women’s progress. It was during this period that the practice of separate female and male recruitment literature ceased (Llewellyn, 1981).

Despite the increasing level of disclosure in bank corporate annual reports revealed in the previous two periods of our study, and some institutional encouragement as women’s employment (and other) rights became recognised in legislation, there were only two disclosures in the period 1970-1979.  Perhaps this is not surprising.  Previously the National Union of Bank Employees had adopted a policy of equal pay by 1967 (before the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970 which came into force in 1975).  However with the introduction of differentiated grade structures in the clearing banks whereby women and men were recruited at the same grade level, discrimination simply became more subtle, with banks not wishing to highlight the relative position of women and men.  The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 did not prevent such subtle forms of discrimination and one bank clearly saw it as a diversion from the increasingly difficult task of making money:

“I find it saddening that during this period of grave economic difficulty so much management time, thought and effort should have been diverted from the task of achieving greater efficiency, finding new products or markets and building up vital profitability to the study and application of many new and complex statutes. I have in mind, for example, such enactments as the…………Sex Discrimination Act……..” (Bank of Scotland, 1977 corporate annual report)

It appears that in the case of the banks it was now less appropriate to discuss opportunities for young women and young men, particularly since men were benefiting from some advantage.  The introduction of legislation, with the attendant possibility of public inquiry and bad publicity, might be viewed as a discouragement to disclose. Evidence of banks discouraging women from taking the Institute of Bankers examinations is indicative of the banks’ patriarchal attitudes and, at a time when such views were becoming unacceptable to many, provides further insight into reasons for non-disclosure.


The 1970s saw the introduction of the first hypermarkets in Britain (Benson, 1994), although the recession in 1973-5, the three day week, price controls and consumer protection legislation all contributed to a halt in growth in the retail sector. In contrast to the banks, the retail companies, which had fewer disclosures in the previous two periods, made 18 disclosures in the 1970s.  This includes a breakdown of female and male full-time and part-time employees made each year by W H  Smith. Other disclosures suggest some commitment to the position of women, with an emphasis on recruitment but no reference to the irony of their representation in certain jobs.  For example;

“We employ many more women than men – largely because of the preponderance of women in our retail branches. We are anxious therefore to see them in positions of importance within the organisation and are very pleased to have appointed two women directors to boards of our subsidiary companies. Last year more than 400 graduates covering many different disciplines joined the company and almost half of these were women.

One hundred branches of Boots The Chemists are managed by women pharmacists and this number will surely increase since more than half the graduates from schools of pharmacy are female.” (Boots, 1975 corporate annual report)

“We now employ both men and women in positions which were once only held by one sex. We have over 100 women training for Store Management. We employ women as merchandisers and technologists in Head Office and men as Sales Assistants and Supervisors in our Stores.” (Marks and Spencer, 1979 corporate annual report)

Earlier Marks and Spencer had introduced greater benefits for part-timers, which would be of particular benefit to women,  with:

“…a much improved Pension Scheme for all staff including part-timers.” (Marks and Spencer, 1975 corporate annual report)

The 1970s offer us an interesting contrast between the two sectors.  While the retail sector appeared keen to publicise efforts to recruit more women to jobs with greater responsibility, although ignoring the irony of their domination in non-management employment, the legislative developments of the 1970s appear to have done little to encourage either sector to provide detailed information with which one might judge how well equality of opportunity was being achieved. This may reflect the economic turmoil of the period and the extent to which confrontation and discontent was widespread. The legislation appears to have tackled the more overt patriarchal attitudes. There may also have been uncertainty arising from the new legislation and the absence of reflective disclosures could have been due to concern regarding the possibility of them being used as the basis for investigations or as evidence in legal cases (e.g. Benston, 1982; Solomons, 1974). Non-disclosure may have sought to prevent attention being directed to greater opportunities for men, which made little economic sense and which contravened the legislation.


The election of a radical Conservative government in 1979, was to herald a period which encouraged both the concept of a property owning democracy and subsequent share owning democracy (Pearce & Stewart, 1992). The change of government led to a sharp recession and significant increases in unemployment (Broadberry, 1994). In 1980, unemployment rose to two million for the first time since 1938, rising to over three million in 1982. Although it is claimed that the economy recovered, unemployment remained at this level, while industrial disputes rose as deindustrialisation and the closure of manufacturing businesses unfolded. Despite this overall increase in unemployment, the banking and retail sectors continued to grow.

During this final period of our study further legislative developments were introduced in the Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations, 1983 with the expansion from equal work to work of equal value (like work, work rated as equivalent and work of equal value (Labour Research Department, 1993)).  However subsequent research indicated that employers acted to reduce their obligations under the Act, to the detriment of their female workforce (Department of Employment, 1991).  Walby (1986) specifically refers to one employers’ federation advising its members on how to reduce the impact of the legislation. A survey, early in the period, indicated the enormity of the problem, when of the top 500 companies in the country, only 25% had a written policy statement on equal opportunities for women (EOC, 1981). The EOC published a Code of Practice for the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex and marriage and the promotion of equality of opportunity in employment (EOC, 1985)[14]. However, despite an emphasis on internal monitoring, there is no call for firms to report on their performance, in the annual report or elsewhere.

Despite this apparently weak infrastructure (see Sachs (1986) for a detailed critique of the failures of the EOC), women’s participation in paid employment (excluding armed forces, fire service, police, unemployed and self-employed) has increased from 38% in 1970 to 42% in 1980 and 48% in 1990 (figures at mid- June each year for Great Britain from the Annual Abstract of Statistics). However, this growth appears to have been particularly in part-time employment, with 46% of women employed in 1994 in part‑time employment (compared with 7% of men (Crompton & Le Feuvre, 1992))  and 84% of the part-time workforce was female (Social Trends).  Thus the percentage of women in part-time work has been growing, as has the age of the female labour force (Dex, 1985).

This increasing feminisation of the workforce  has not been accompanied by a breakdown of  its sexual division  (Pollert & Rees, 1992). In fact, the growth of part-time work for women has allowed men to retain their expectations of linear careers (Halford et al, 1997). Women continue to dominate particular sectors, and a range of occupations.  They are generally located in sectors where employment is less secure, earnings are low, promotion opportunities few and collective organisation weak (Martin & Wallace, 1984).   The growth in female employment has been associated with the desire for flexibility.  Almost half of women in full-time work in recent years have been classified as receiving ‘low pay’, by the Low Pay Unit (Dex, Lissenburgh & Taylor, 1994). Evidence suggests that women’s relative earnings are significantly lower than men’s (see Smith, 1979; Vickers, 1991; Pillinger, 1992), with full time earnings for female workers, on average, about 25% of men’s (EOC, 1990).

Despite this continued, and somewhat deteriorating position, the emphasis in policy making in the 1980s and 1990s has increasingly been on a voluntaristic and managerialist approach. The view is increasingly expressed that equal opportunities is not simply about securing equal rights (the so‑called moral argument) but is a matter central to national economic objectives and the need to make the most of all human resources (the so‑called economic argument) (EOC, 1988). Demographic change, in particular the skills mismatch (Rees, 1992), is clearly an issue of some importance and may go some way to explaining the growing interest of employers (Confederation of British Industry, 1988, referred to in Cockburn, 1991). As a consequence the EOC sees its role changing from being largely concerned with securing equal rights for women to a major role in achieving central national economic objectives through the implementation of effective equal opportunities practice.


By 1979 bank staff had doubled since 1959 to over 221,000 reaching 504,000 by 1990 (Egan, 1982). Some of this arose from expansion in business, while some resulted from the deregulation of building societies and in particular the conversion of one, the Abbey National, to banking status (Storey, 1995). Growth in women’s employment was particularly marked, rising by 32% in the period 1980-1991 with an 84% rise in women’s part-time employment (Cressey & Scott, 1992). However, by the end of our period it was clear that the increased competition, particularly from the deregulated building societies, the growth in new technology, reorganisation and rationalisation of branches and reorganisation of  delivery of service, was having an impact on employment levels (Cressey & Scott, 1992). This change is reflected in a change in bank culture. Cressey & Scott (1992) describe a shift away from the paternalistic to a technocratic culture, with greater emphasis on performance and flexibility, in part due to the recession. The banking workforce was now younger, following a period of voluntary redundancies and the first compulsory redundancies in 1993 (Storey, 1995).

While the introduction of tiered entry saw more women entering higher grades in the banks during the 1980s than before (Crompton & Sanderson, 1990), research by Halford et al (1997) found that nearly one third of all men working in one (unnamed) of the major British clearing banks in 1991 were in management posts compared to only 2% of women. Whilst this is, nevertheless, an improvement, Savage (1993) suggests that the growth in female managers, and the clear progression of women into managerial positions, should not be viewed as optimistically as might first seem, but suggests that such developments should be seen in the light of changes in the way banks are organised, and in particular the growth in middle management, which has created more positions of high expertise, but with limited authority (Savage, 1993).  Thus, although more women might be branch managers etc., these positions are less influential than once was the case.  Halford et al, (1997) also found evidence of a loosening of gender segregation, but some partial segregation with women concentrated in cashiering and routine clerical work, isolated from dynamic areas of the banks’ activities. However, the increase in the number of women with qualifications (Crompton & Sanderson, 1994) and the recruitment of women to what might be described as career jobs is clearly a development, and is arguably a ‘radical source of  a possible change in gender relations’ (Crompton, 1989, p. 154).  For Crompton & Sanderson (1994) the ‘qualifications lever’ offers potential for change to benefit women. Indeed, in its 1980 corporate annual report, Lloyds was at pains to stress that ‘Merit is the only yardstick for career development and promotion’. Collinson (1987) found evidence of stereotyping, where closed promotion procedures, failure to advertise vacancies internally and recruitment based on discriminatory assumptions ensured little change. The four main clearing banks all appointed equal opportunities managers in 1986, following the EOCs official investigation of the Leeds Permanent Building Society. Voluntary equal opportunities policies were developed perhaps to improve image and recruitment and overcome the resistance of women and Black people (Cockburn, 1991).

During our final period the level of disclosure grew.  In fifteen years we noted 38 disclosures by banks, with up to five out of seven banks recording a general policy statement on gender and employment in the final three years.  Following the legislative developments of the 1970s, in the 1980s it was no longer acceptable to make public statements indicating that women and men were treated differently.  In fact the banks were keen to be seen to be helping, rather than hindering, women in reaching their potential. The earliest statements indicating such include:

“In the past, the lack of defined arrangements for re-entry after a period of absence…….to raise a family may have inhibited the progress of some women. At the beginning of 1981 an experimental scheme was introduced to enable selected women to return to resume their career with the Bank.” (Westminster, 1981 corporate annual report)

“A number of equal opportunity initiatives have been taken both to ensure there is no unfair or unlawful discrimination and to support the Bank’s commitment to select the best person for each job. This year a scheme will be introduced to enable career women and men to break their service for up to five years to fulfil pre-school child care commitments and return to resume their careers.” (Midland, 1984 corporate annual report)

However, as recently as 1983 a complaint was made to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC, 1987) that Barclays Bank were operating an informal two tier recruitment system based on gender.  Perhaps as a result of this complaint, Barclays 1991 and 1992 corporate annual reports are unique in including a bar chart depicting female staff as a percentage of each grade in 1988 and 1991. In 1991 women occupied between about 65 and 80% of each of the bottom four grades, about 60% of grade 5 staff, 28% of grade six staff and about 11% of managerial staff.   In 1993 such detailed analysis was no longer provided though the bank compared progress with 1982:

“…………Since 1982, we have more than doubled the number of women senior non-managerial grades to 46 per cent, whilst 15 per cent of managers are now women, compared to fewer than 4 per cent in 1982.” (Barclays, 1982 corporate annual report)

In the same year, the Bank of Scotland reported that it had doubled the proportion of women on the Assistant Manager grades to one third of the total.

The late 1980s and early 1990s also saw the banks reporting a number of initiatives from the setting up of workplace nurseries to the appointment of equal opportunities officers and even workforce reorganisations. The motivations for these changes is not made clear. On the one hand the Midland notes potential commercial benefits:


“The Group will remain committed to ensuring that it does more than merely meet its statutory obligations as an equal opportunity employer, as there are clear commercial benefits to be gained by making the fullest possible use of all our staff resources.” (Midland, 1985 corporate annual report) [Emphasis added]

and on the other hand a moral justification:

“….we have demonstrated our commitment to do every thing within our power to help iron out the disparity in attitude and opportunity existing between men and women both within Midland Group and in the wider community.” (Midland, 1980 corporate annual report)

Perhaps the silence on the part of the other banks with regard to reasons for changes in employment practices to help the advancement of women reflects uncertainty as to their acceptability. Moral justifications may not be acceptable to many (largely male) shareholders, whilst profit oriented justifications do not sit comfortably with many other shareholders in a climate of increasing demand for corporate responsibility. Indeed a purely ‘commercial benefits’ justification is difficult to accept at a time of far more pressing financial problems following from the banking recession due in part to a general economic recession and in part to the deregulation of financial services and increasing competition from building societies. Indeed the British clearing bank studied (anonymously) by Halford et al (1997) was reacting with a major job-cutting and branch-closing exercise. Perhaps the economic cost of equal opportunities initiatives could be justified on purely ‘commercial’ grounds, although the influence of earlier legislation, the activity of the EOC and a general change in public opinion could also have been significant.

There were now clearer commitments being made, which together with a growing acknowledgement of the better qualifications of women, encourage some (e.g. Crompton, 1987; Crompton & Sanderson, 1990) to see the possibility of significant change.  On the other hand the considerable growth in part-time employment (the compromise which suits capitalism and patriarchy (Crompton & Sanderson, 1990)) is hardly mentioned, despite the consequences for workers in regard to employment protection legislation, employment benefits, national insurance, wages and representation (Balchin, 1994). Nor do we read of the substantial difference between female and male remuneration in the firms (female remuneration is 61% of men’s in the finance sector (BIFU, 1996)), results of appraisals and promotions and the impact of initiatives such as performance related pay.


By 1981 the retail trade was dominated by department and chain stores (Benson, 1994). At the beginning of our final period one in eleven women in the British workforce was employed in retailing (Scott, 1994).  By 1988 this was one in ten, with women comprising 64% of the workforce in that sector and 83% of sales assistants (the lowest level) (Broadbridge, 1991). Of the female workforce, 25% worked part-time which suited a sector coping with substantial merger activity as well as growth due to advances in electronic technology, longer hours and new locations (Dale, 1989).

The increase in frequency of retail disclosures was even more significant than that of bank disclosures in this period.  We recorded 51 disclosures in the fifteen years, although many of these were extremely brief, often being short equal opportunities policy statements which appeared in a similar form in consecutive years.  Notable among the disclosures were those of the Kingfisher/Woolworth subsidiary B & Q, which didn’t appoint its first woman district manager until 1991. However, Kingfisher is unique in reporting the progress of women in quantified terms:

“Within the Group women in senior management positions have risen from 19% in 1991 to 21% in 1992 and female trainee managers have risen from 37% to 43% over the same period. In addition, 55% of graduate trainees recruited across the Group in 1992 were female……” (Kingfisher, 1993 corporate annual report)

In 1981, Boots provided a breakdown of female and male full-time and part-time employees which shows that of the total shop staff 15% were male (of which 44% were part-time) and 85% were female (of which 56% were part-time).

However, in general throughout the 1980s, very brief and uninformative equal opportunities statements were found in corporate annual reports. It wasn’t until the 1990s that any of the companies attempted to describe what they were doing to improve the position of women. Indications of why they were concerned are provided by Kingfisher and Boots:

“….must also prepare for demographic changes – for example by re-training women returning to work….” (Kingfisher, 1990 corporate annual report)

“A new internal report, Half Our Futures, highlights ways in which we can discover, promote and utilise the true potential of the women who make up more than two thirds of our workforce. …” (Kingfisher, 1991 corporate annual report)

“Our strong commitment to equal opportunities continues. Both gender and ethnic monitoring have been the cornerstones of this policy for some years to ensure that we are totally unbiased in the recruitment and treatment of our employees.” (Boots, 1993 corporate annual report)

Although the reported initiatives themselves included flexible term-time contracts and re-training for women returning to work, flexible hours, job shares, home working, paternity leave, extended maternity leave and career breaks, sponsoring externally-run programmes to help more women return to work, there was little systematic reporting both across firms and over time.  Whilst, as in the case of the banks, there could be said to have been a general encouragement to recognise the financial benefits of equal opportunities this barely resulted in either detailed disclosure of benefits, either to the firm or to women in general. Previous research into equal opportunities disclosures in Britain has pointed to the very low level of voluntary disclosure in the 1991 corporate annual reports of the top 100 companies, and showed that compliance with mandatory requirements in respect of disabled employees, was incomplete (Adams, Coutts & Harte, 1995). Although more recent employer interest in equal opportunities appears to have developed for financial reasons, due to demographic changes (Adams, Curruthers & Hamil, 1991), one might also have expected firms to publicise their achievements for public relations purposes (Jewson, et al, 1992).  Yet Adams, Coutts & Harte’s (1995) study focused on the largest firms, the group most likely to be reporting on equal opportunities.  Perhaps, unsurprisingly, we did not detect a reflective reporting of equal opportunities performance, relatively little detail regarding the extent of female employment at different levels in the workforce, and little in the way of specific targets. Although firms in both sectors disclosed policies, little detail of actual practices were noted, despite the continuing disparities  which exist between the recruitment and treatment of female and male workers. Despite direct discrimination being illegal, recruitment criteria such as continuity of employment, mobility and ability to work long hours resulted in indirect discrimination (see, for example, Broadbridge, 1991; Cockburn, 1991; Cressey & Scott, 1992; Halford et al, 1997, Storey, 1995).

The citation for this paper is: Adams CA and Harte GF (1998) The Changing portrayal of the employment of women in British banks’ and retail companies’ corporate annual reports Accounting, Organizations and Society 23(8): 781–812. doi:10.1016/S0361-3682(98)00028-2

© 2016 This manuscript is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

Concluding discussion

Our study allowed us to consider the extent of equal opportunities reporting in the 59 year period in two sectors which have appeared to offer different experiences for women.  Our focus has also been on only the largest firms, as these are the largest employers, and are thought more likely to offer voluntary disclosure (see Cowen, Ferreri & Parker, 1987; Gray et al, 1995; and Trotman & Bradley, 1981). Our study indicates that although the corporate annual reports have been valuable historical documents shedding light on attitudes to women’s employment, they need to be examined in the light of other evidence. They are as important for what they omit as for what they disclose. While providing information on women’s employment, this must be viewed in the wider social, political and economic context of each period. Alone corporate annual reports add little, but using a theoretical framework which allows us to identify what is missing, they can be seen to add to our knowledge of women’s employment. In this case, they add support to a theory which sees women’s employment in terms of class and patriarchal power (Hartmann, 1979; Thane, 1992). They also confirm the need to consider individual sector features in understanding women’s employment (Milkman, 1987).

The primary purpose of our study was to examine corporate social reporting on the employment of women in two sectors over a 59 year period. In doing so we also studied the value of the corporate annual report as an historical document by examining corporate disclosure in the context of wider social, political and economic developments. Whilst individual quotes from the corporate annual reports taken in isolation, could be said to support legitimacy and stakeholder theories[15], when taken in the context of the broader social, political and economic environment, these theories are likely to be inadequate for explaining the motivations for corporate social disclosure.  They fail to recognise the underlying conflicts between both capital and labour and women and men, and thus will at best offer only a partial explanation.  Our view is supported by other empirical studies which have examined corporate social disclosures over an extended period, in their broader social and political context (see Guthrie & Parker (1989b) and Tinker &  Neimark (1987)).  Studies which have supported legitimacy theory have tended to look at only a partial picture.  For example they have covered a limited time period or have looked only at the extent, rather than the detailed content of disclosures, or have examined disclosures without reference to wider social and political issues (e.g. see Adams et al (1998), Deegan & Gordon (1996), Hackston & Milne (1996), Patten (1991, 1992) and Roberts (1992)).  We have concentrated on the portrayal of women’s employment in two very different sectors in the corporate annual reports and accounts and have shown that corporate disclosure policy with regard to the employment of women throughout the period, can best be understood in the context of the changing influences of capitalism and patriarchy. We further suggest that both in their choice of disclosures (eg explaining opportunities for young men) and in their silence, corporate managers have contributed to social perceptions of women and employment.

For most of the period we traced no disclosure of analysis of the workforce by gender, and therefore know little or nothing of the scale of the segregation in individual firms.  Corporate annual reports appear to have largely ignored women, reinforcing the values of the status quo, and denying the opportunity of debate on an aspect of corporate performance considered by many to be important.  While some firms have made policy declarations, little was reported on achievements. Cockburn (1991) suggests that there is an obvious reason for this, there are few.  The overall impression is that management has sought to withhold information which could have assisted an assessment of performance, other than through polite recognition of the war effort and the highlighting of exceptional cases.  To this extent our study supports the view that corporate disclosure seeks to ‘mediate, suppress, mystify and transform social conflict’ (Tinker & Neimark, 1987, p. 72).  There is little evidence of disclosure seeking to appeal to a wider stakeholder group (particularly women employees), until the latest years, and even then disclosure has been concerned more with intention than achievement.  Our study might, however, suggest that disclosure reflected corporate efforts to legitimate their position, by adapting to social goals (Dowling & Pfeffer, 1975).  Yet such an interpretation appears to assume a dominant, agreed social interest, rather than that different groups in society will have different goals.  Our review has suggested considerable conflict, both in industrial action, resistance to change, and a slow development of legislation, with limited impact on managerial communication and ultimately of the position of women in the labour force.  The  evidence suggests that firms were slow to respond even to legislative encouragement, and appeared to actively resist in some cases.  Although more recent developments in reporting appear to suggest  a growing recognition of the importance of equality, the absence of detailed information on performance, and that there is an economic incentive to encourage equality of opportunity, suggests that a political economy explanation, which encompasses patriarchy, might offer a better basis for understanding disclosure practice.

Our findings suggest that up to the mid 1980s we were able to detect  practices consistent with both economic interests and, particularly in regard to managerial positions and general recruitment, patriarchal influences.  Since the mid 1980s we have also seen clearer, though more general commitments to equality of opportunity.  As yet, the evidence is not available to indicate that firms have abandoned patriarchal views.  Unlike Tinker & Neimark (1987) we are unable to conclude with firm conviction that a political economy explanation, favouring class rather than patriarchy, of the employment of women is the more appropriate here[16].  The  story of women’s employment in banking and retail told by corporate annual reports and interpreted in the light of the social and other developments in the period, suggests a continuing importance of patriarchy, which, would appear to be largely in place.  We do, however, acknowledge that patriarchy needs to be understood in the context of the imperatives of the economic system.  A history of employment in banking and retailing, drawing on the corporate annual reports when set in the social, political and economic context can be seen to be largely his story.

Our findings with respect to the pervasive influences of capitalism and patriarchy on reporting of women’s employment, indicate a bleak prospect for voluntary corporate social reporting providing a reflective corporate accountability for the interactions between corporations and the society and the environment in which they operate. It suggests that such accountability is unlikely to be provided without some involvement of interested parties (such as employees, trade unions, human resource management departments and, in Britain, the EOC) whether in the development of regulation or in the preparation of information. Yet legislation is unlikely to be passed until the social and political climate has changed. Neither  equal opportunities legislation nor economic incentives appear to have broken down the forces of patriarchy. While these may be weakened, research on women’s employment and on voluntary corporate social reporting both suggest that corporate annual reports are more important for what they do not reveal.

There are implications of our findings for academics committed to the development of a critical corporate social reporting. In order to influence social disclosure practice, it is necessary to understand the reasons for disclosure. The time for descriptive studies of the relationship between the quantity of social disclosures and company size, industry or country of origin, for example, whilst useful initially in informing about the extent of social reporting, has passed. We now need a better understanding of the nature of corporate social reporting and its relationship to the context in which it is made. Further research should therefore examine corporate social (non)disclosures in their social, political and economic context and against accounts of corporate social performance obtained from other sources. Further useful insights might be gained by adopting a case study approach to critically examine the comprehensiveness of reporting, the sources of data and constituencies consulted in the disclosure decision and the factors which do and don’t influence corporate social disclosure policy.

NOTICE: this is the authors’ version of a work that was accepted for publication in Critical Perspectives on Accounting. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Accounting, Organisations and Society: Adams CA and Harte GF (1998) The Changing portrayal of the employment of women in British banks’ and retail companies’ corporate annual reports Accounting, Organizations and Society 23(8): 781–812. doi:10.1016/S0361-3682(98)00028-2

© 2016 This manuscript is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence


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Table 1: Periods for which corporate annual reports were available


Bank of Scotland 1935-1993 except 1963
Barclays 1935-1993
British Linen Bank 1935-1967 except 1964 & 19661
Clydesdale 1935-1993 except 1944 & 1962
Lloyds 1935-1993
Midland 1935-1993
National Commercial Bank of Scotland 1958-19682
National Provincial 1935-19683
Westminster/National Westminster 1935-1993
Royal Bank of Scotland 1935-1993


Retail Sector
Boots 1935-1993 except 1975
British Home Stores/Storehouse 1935-1993 except 1950
Burton 1935-1993 except 1935, 1941-1947, 1953, 1964
Great Universal Stores 1935-1993 except 1949
Marks and Spencer 1935-1993
Sears 1935-1993 (except 1962)4
W H Smith 1935-1993 except 1935-1947
Woolworths/Kingfisher 1935-1993

Source: Times 1000 (1995) compiled by Extel Financial

  1. Merged with the Bank of Scotland in 1969.
  2. Merged with the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1969.
  3. Merged with the Westminster in 1968 to become the National Westminster.
  4. No report in this year – company taken over.

Table 2: Number of banks (and retail companies) by year making disclosures mentioning sex, gender or marriage in their corporate annual report.

Year No.cos. in sample No. of cos.

making a









Training Promot-










1935  9  (6)  1  1
1936  9  (7)
1937  9  (7)
1938 9   (7)
1939  9  (7)  1  1  1
1940  9  (7)  2   (1)  1  (1)  2
1941  9  (6)  1   (1)  1  1  (1)
1942  9  (6)       (1)      (1)
1943  9  (6)  1   (2)  1  (1)      (1)
1944 8  (6)       (1)       (1)
1945  9  (6)       (1)       (1)
1946  9  (6)  1   (1)  1  1  (1)  1   (1)
1947  9  (6)  2   (1)      (1)       (1)  1      (1)
1948  9  (8)       (1)       (1)      (1)
1949  9  (7)
1950  9  (7)  1  1
1951  9  (8)
1952  9  (8)  1  1  1  1
1953  9  (7)  1  1
1954  9  (8)  2  1  2  2  1  2
1955  9  (8)  1   (1)  1  1  (1)      (1)  1  1
1956  9  (8)  1  1  1  1
1957  9  (8)
1958 10  (8)  2  1  1  2  1
1959 10  (8)
1960 10  (8)  2  2  1  1
1961 10  (8)
1962  9  (7)  1  1  1  1  1  1
1963  9  (8)  1  1  1  1
1964  9  (7)  3  2  1  2  1  1
1965 10 (8)  2  (1)  1  2  1      (1)
1966  9  (8)  1  (1)  1  1  (1)  1
1967 10 (8)  2  (1)      (1)  1  1
1968  9  (8)      (1)      (1)
1969  7  (8)  1  (2)      (1)  1      (1)     (2)
1970  7  (8)      (1)      (1)
1971  7  (8)  2  (1)  1      (1)  1
1972  7  (8)      (1)      (1)
1973  7  (8)      (1)      (1)
1974  7  (8)      (1)      (1)
1975  7  (7)      (3)     (1)      (2)     (1)     (1)
1976  7  (8)      (2)     (1)      (2)     (1)     (1)
1977  7  (8)      (2)      (2)     (1)
1978  7  (8)      (3)      (3)     (1)
1979  7  (8)      (3)      (3)     (1)     (1)
1980  7  (8)  1  (3)  1  (3)     (1)  1 (3)  1  (2)
1981  7  (8)  1  (4)  1      (3)     (2)     (2)
1982  7  (8)      (3)      (3)     (2)     (2)      (1)
1983  7  (8)      (1)      (1)
1984  7  (8)  2  (1)  2  1  (1)      (1)
1985  7  (8)  1  (2)  1       (1)      (2)      (2)      (1)
1986  7  (8)  2  (2)  2      (1)      (2)      (2)      (1)  1
1987  7  (8)  3  (2)  2      (1)  1  (1)      (1)  1  (1)  1
1988  7  (8)  3  (4)  3  (2)      (2)  1  (1)  1  (2)  1
1989  7  (8)  3  (4)  2  (3)  1  (1)      (1)      (1)  1
1990  7  (8)  3  (6)  3  (4)      (1)      (2)  1 1   (1)  1
1991  7  (8)  5  (5)  5  (5)      (2)  1  (1)      (1) 1   (1)  1  1
1992  7  (8)  7  (5)  5  (4)  5  (3)      (2)  1  (3)      (2)  1
1993  7  (8)  7  (6)  5  (5)  1  (2)      (1)      (2)  1  (1)        (1)  1



486(445) 70 (83) 49 (28) 23 (49) 19 (24) 16 (28) 14 (21)  6  (1)  3  (0)


[1] The period from 1914 to the end of the Second World War, a period covering two world wars, revolution, economic collapse and the rise of capitalism.

[2] The period of thirty or so years after the Second World War which saw ‘extraordinary growth and social transformation’ (Hobsbawm, 1994, p. 6).

[3] A period which has seen significant change in the former Soviet Union, Africa and China.

[4] We must acknowledge the considerable development of corporate annual reports in the period examined here. Like McKinstry (1996), we discovered a substantial expansion of the corporate annual report of all companies in the sample, from a basic four pages in the early years to in excess of 50 pages in the final period. Although largely attributable to legal and professional accounting requirements, it is also likely that the development was due to a concern with image.

[5] The government funded body set up by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (and responsible to the Secretary of State for Employment) in order inter alia to promote equal opportunities between the sexes.

[6] Annual reports were obtained from: the companies included in the sample; the archives of the Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland; Companies House in Cardiff and Edinburgh; microfiche obtained from Microform; the corporate annual report archive of the Wards Trust Research  Library, Department of Accounting  and Finance, University of Glasgow; and, the University of Strathclyde.

[7] Ideally, in assessing corporate disclosure, it would be appropriate to review all external corporate communication (see for example, Zeghal & Ahmed, 1990).  However, we had to conduct our research at a large number of different locations in order to obtain access to the corporate annual reports, and in some cases failed to even do so (see table 1) (largely because copies either were not lodged with the Registrar of Companies or had been subsequently lost).  Since the majority of other external communications are not legal requirements, nor have to be lodged with the Registrar of Companies, and, since no firm was able to supply us with copies of corporate annual reports going back to 1935 (the best we managed was one firm which supplied reports back to the 1950s), we would almost certainly not have been successful in obtaining all external communications for the period.  In addition, although it is possible that firms are disclosing details of their equal opportunities performance by means of other external communications, this appears unlikely in most cases. A recent research study (ECCR, 1993) which requested that firms submit any reporting of their equal opportunities performance in respect of race and employment, received only 22 responses, from a sample of 91, with only 13 companies providing materials in addition to the corporate annual report.

[8] The collection of data was carried out with the help of three research assistants. On starting to collect data, each assistant used company reports already analysed by one of the authors until we were satisfied that both data collection and coding were being done accurately. A detailed coding sheet, giving instructions and examples, was provided, and a sample of all data collection forms was checked by another person, normally  one of the co-authors. In addition the recorded data was checked for any anomalies and unusual patterns and the coding of all disclosures related to gender was checked in full against copied extracts from the corporate annual reports.

[9] As early as 1920, Drake noted that: ‘Men trade unionists are accused of  a policy of sex privilege and prejudice………..’ (Drake, 1984, first published, 1920, p. 220).

[10] Women were also recruited for the newly formed central clearing house, which was set up in 1940, although the naming of their newsletter, The Outcast, suggests little integration with male employees (Snell, 1997).

[11] Although the National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE), later to become the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union (BIFU), was not formally recognised by the major clearing banks until 1967, its growth has been attributed to the greater feminisation of the labour force in this period.

[12] The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was a significant piece of legislation, applying  to all stages of the employment relationship, including advertising and interviewing, the terms of the job, decisions on who to offer the job to, opportunities for promotion, transfer and training, conditions, and dismissal and other unfavourable treatment of employees.  The legislation allows employees who feel that they have been discriminated against, and cannot reach agreement with their employer, to bring a case before an industrial tribunal, after trying to resolve matters personally and with the help of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).  Subsequent appeals can be taken to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and beyond.

[13] The EOC is the only body allowed to take action on discriminatory advertisements and discriminatory practices.  It also has the power to conduct formal investigations in connection with any of its duties, and must do so if required by the Secretary of State.  In a formal investigation the EOC can require the production of relevant information. However, the penalty for altering, concealing or destroying evidence, or giving false evidence to the EOC is a maximum fine of  only £400.  At the conclusion of an investigation the EOC may issue a non‑discrimination notice, and may subsequently ask for evidence that this is being complied with. It can also seek an injunction against an employer who has been served with a non‑discrimination notice, or an adverse tribunal decision, if it appears that the employer is committing further unlawful acts.

[14] The Code covers matters such as recruitment, promotion, transfer and training, health and safety, terms of employment, benefits, facilities, services, dismissals, redundancies and other unfavourable treatment of employees.  It also recommends that firms develop an equal opportunities policy, comments on implementation and monitoring and encourages positive action (special encouragement).

[15] See Gray, Owen and Adams (1996) for a discussion of the various theories of corporate social reporting.

[16] Tinker & Neimark (1987) suggest that two major forces have contributed to the subordination of women: their role as a reserve labour army; and, capitalism’s periodic crises of overproduction whereby temporary resolutions involve reconstructing social ideology concerning women.


We are grateful to the ACCA for funding this research project and for the help of Doug Laing, Yvonne Laing (Wards Trust Research Librarian at the University of Glasgow), Keith Leslie and Gary Williamson, staff at Companies House in Edinburgh and Cardiff, archivists at the Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland and to the various companies covered in this study who sent us their corporate annual reports. We would also like to thank the participants of the 1996 annual conferences of the BAA and EAA, colleagues at Texas A&M University, the Universities of Aberdeen, Aberystwyth, Strathclyde and Glasgow, and particularly Anthony Hopwood, John McKernan, Bob Perks and three anonymous referees, for their valuable comments on earlier drafts of this paper. We are also indebted to the organisers of the social and environmental research summer schools at the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research at the University of Dundee.

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