One of Britain's leading accountancy firms, PwC, is to set targets for the number of women it employs as partners in a radical attempt to break the glass ceiling in the corporate world.
PricewaterhouseCoopers will announce that it wants the present 14pc figure to rise significantly over the next decade.
It is believed that the first target could be 20pc.
Ian Powell, the chairman of PwC, also wants to set an "aspirational goal" of 40pc to 50pc of partners being women or from other under-represented groups, such as ethnic minorities.
PwC's move comes just ahead of the publication of Lord Davies' report on the lack of women in the boardrooms of FTSE companies. Lord Davies has been considering whether quotas should be imposed, similar to those used in countries such as Norway.
"We take on over a thousand graduates a year and the number of women is in the high forties in terms of percentage," Mr Powell said.
"That is reflected up to a relatively senior level but we have not been good enough at attracting women back into the workplace [after a career break for children].
"At the moment our partner proportion is about 13pc to 14pc and we want to rebalance that. It is good from a business perspective.
"At the moment we have all that talent that is being lost to the business. There is a fantastic workforce not being utilised."
He said PwC already had 20pc of its staff men and women undertaking flexible working and that the firm had launched a women's leadership programme five years ago where high-flying candidates are given focused support.
"This is not about positive discrimination," Mr Powell said. "Women don't want that, they want a level playing field."
He said that PwC had already identified 30 "senior, high-powered" women leaders who are mentored by members of the board.
"There is a lot of debate about quotas but we don't think that is the way forward," he said.
"This is not just a numbers game."
PwC is likely to set a series of targets over the next decade to increase the number of partners. Mr Powell said that they also wanted to ensure that other under-represented groups such as those on the basis of religion, race or disability are also part of the programme.
"We know that 50pc of business start-ups are now by women or ethnic minorities," he said. "This makes commercial sense."