A Midland MP has backed calls for quotas to ensure women receive a fairer share of top jobs.

Former Cabinet Minister Caroline Spelman (Con Meriden) said she applauded banks which were introducing a positive discrimination system to try to end the male domination of their industry.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mrs Spelman also warned that the Midlands was lagging behind other parts of the country in terms of the number of women in work.

Nationally, women make up 46 per cent of the UK workforce, according to the Office for National Statistics, but only 20.4 per cent of directors in FTSE 100 businesses, the 100 highest-valued companies listed on the London stock exchange, are women.

This is up from 12.5 per cent in 2011 but women are still under-represented.

Ministers are already considering whether discrimination in favour of female candidates should be allowed and Business secretary Vince Cable has asked the Equalities and Human Rights Commission about the legality of imposing all-female shortlists for top jobs, as part of a push to get more women on to the boards of major companies.

John Cridland, Director-General of the CBI, has also urged firms to set targets for women in top positions, and banks including Barclays and Lloyds have announced plans to increase the proportion of senior positions held by women.

And banks including Barclays and Lloyds have announced plans to increase the proportion of senior positions held by women.

Leading a Commons debate on the contribution of women to the economy, Mrs Spelman said: “I applaud moves such as the one by the chief executive of Barclays, who is introducing quotas for women within his company, so that women get a really good opportunity to be represented in the higher-paid echelons of the banking business. I wish that we saw more of that.”

The MP, a former Environment Secretary, said women needed to play a full role to ensure economies grew again following the banking crash.

In the UK, more women are working than ever before – but they are still under-represented in top jobs and the West Midlands is lagging behind, she said.

“As for the UK, Office for National Statistics figures published last month show that female employment in the UK is at its highest level since records began. It now stands at 62.7 per cent, compared with 53 per cent in 1971. Women now account for 46 per cent of the UK work force.

“Figures from January 2014 also show that 20.4 per cent of FTSE 100 directors are female, compared with 12.5 per cent in February 2011. Progress is being made in those areas, but there is definitely still further to go.”

She added: “I am disturbed to read that there are serious geographic imbalances in female participation in this country. The lowest employment rates for women are in Birmingham, where the rate is 50 per cent; Nottingham, where it is 54 per cent; Coventry, where it is 55 per cent; and Leicester, where it is 55 per cent.

“That means that they have a higher than average proportion of women not actively employed in the economy. I fully understand that that might be linked to the ethnic make-up of those cities, but nonetheless, it is disappointing to find that the Midlands cities, which are at the heart of the manufacturing renaissance that we are enjoying, have such low levels of female participation compared with other cities.”

Speaking in the same debate, Solihull MP Lorely Burt (Lib Dem) highlighted the role of female entrepreneurs.

She said: “The number of female entrepreneurs in this country is about half the number in America. If we are talking about growing the economy, would we not solve our economic problems at a stroke if more women were encouraged to create companies, wealth and jobs?”

Labour Shadow Families Minister Mrs Sharon Hodgson suggested firms could introduce all-women shortlists for top jobs to ensure women are fairly represented in the boardroom.

She said: “The director general of the Confederation of British Industry made an important intervention on that theme earlier this week, on the back of a PricewaterhouseCoopers report that ranked Britain 18th out of 27 OECD countries for the participation of women in the economy. He rightly called for the current generation of top executives to set a much better example and really drive through the changes that will see women progress much further in the private sector. As part of that, he advocated the use of targets for women in senior positions, as a signal to the whole organisation that its leaders want those changes to happen.

“That call has seemingly been heard by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who has asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission for advice on whether all-women shortlists for top jobs will be legal. That apparent reversal in the Government’s position is very welcome.”