Study: Cowardly men may keep women out of corporate jobs

COWARDLY men fearing female competition could be one of the reasons women are so rare in the highest echelons of corporate life in Australia, according to a new report from accounting giant Ernst & Young.

Prolific businessman David Gonski's said part of the problem could be that "there are some men who fear having to compete with women".

"They are in the minority, but they do exist," he said.

Ernst & Young reports women are paid 17.5% less for the same work, less than 10% of key executives in ASX 500 companies are women and more than 33% of ASX 200 firms have no female directors.

Mr Gonski, along with Qantas chief Alan Joyce and Westpac chief Brian Hartzer all agreed that more women needed to be at the forefront of commercial enterprise.

Defence force chief General David Hurley said another aspect of the issue was that men "have a sense of entitlement".

The report calls for business leaders to "stop promoting clones" by supporting different people and create targets with actual consequences if they are not met.

It also asks government to support parental leave schemes, education campaigns and encourage more flexible working hours.