A man starting his career at a large FTSE 100 firm is four and a half times more likely to make it to the company's executive committee than a female counterpart, according to a major study.
The finding was announced by the 30% Club pressure group, business psychology consultancy YSC and professional services firm KPMG as part of the first stage of research into the gender profile of UK companies.
The survey, which questioned a cross section of FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies, accounting for more than 450,000 workers, revealed an average of 21% women at executive committee level at FTSE 100 firms. A quarter of organisations achieved 30% female representation.
Although men and women were equally ambitious, women's ambition was a "slow burn", said researchers.
The report claimed that women tended not to show the same level of ambition early on but that this lifted exponentially by the time they reached executive levels.
"Men and women are different - equally intelligent but we behave differently and are motivated by different things," said Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management and founder of the 30% Club.
"This research gives more depth to the intuitive argument that balanced teams perform better, and gives companies specific actionable ideas to improve their management of all talent - regardless of gender."
Women seemed to make more lateral moves than men over the same timespan with a mid-life career surge, the report continued.
This can result in senior female executives having broader experience than senior male executives with implications for their selection to boards.
The study also revealed a shift in how male and female leadership was valued in corporate environments. The vast majority of positive leadership behaviour was viewed as identical in men and women.
"This research provides a great insight into women's experiences in the workplace," said Maria Miller, minister for women and equalities.
"The workplace was designed by men for men but times have changed and if we want women to be able to fulfil their potential we need to modernise the workplace."
The full analysis will be finished early next year.