BUSINESSES have been warned that excluding women from senior jobs is not just hurting their employees' career prospects - it can be harmful to the company's productivity.

Despite a series of efforts from firms and the Government to improve the prospects of women in the workplace, many companies treat it as a gender issue instead of a problem for the business, consultancy group Advanced Boardroom Excellence (ABE) suggests.

"It is blatantly ridiculous - and must be recognised as such - that with male and female working populations that are broadly numerically equal, women are still a minority group by the time they reach the most senior levels of organisations," said chairman Helen Pitcher.

The organisation's poll of 70 senior women in business found that none described themselves as ambitious, instead recounting their careers as a series of accidents rather than a carefully choreographed climb up the corporate ladder.

A fifth of those polled said they wished they had more self-confidence, which the researchers said was a symptom of companies not properly managing the women they employ.

"The playing field may be level, but sometimes it looks as though we are playing two different games on the same field," they said.

In spite of the problems, a majority of the women polled (52 per cent) were against imposing formal gender quotas on senior jobs. Just 32 per cent supported quotas to force change at the top and 16 were undecided.

The Government has backed a voluntary target of having women in 25 per cent of board seats at large listed companies by 2015, up from 12.6 per cent in 2010.

Headhunting firm Egon Zehnder went further yesterday, pledging to play its part in getting 25 female bosses of FTSE 100 firms by 2025 - up from the current total of five.