A business group has called for a national campaign to encourage more girls to study subjects such as technology and engineering under moves to increase the number of women on company boards.
A study by the EEF manufacturers' organisation found that the UK faced a "major challenge" increasing the number of women in industry in jobs such as engineers.
Of 29 manufacturing firms in the FTSE 100, women accounted for 19% of board positions, slightly higher than the average of 17% for all the companies, said the report.
GlaxoSmithKline topped a list of manufacturing firms, with five women on the board, a third of the total, followed by Diageo with four female directors out of 11.
Nine out of 10 engineers are male and just 20% of the manufacturing and engineering workforce is female, the research found.
The number of female engineers has increased by just 1% to 6% since 2008, compared with 26% in Sweden, 20% in Italy and 18% in Spain.
The EEF partly blamed the failure to encourage young women to study science-related topics, which it said had left half of UK state schools having no girls studying A-level physics.
"Some will argue for quotas for women on boards but this would not address the underlying need for a substantial increase in the pipeline of women with engineering and other key skills going into industry. We need a huge national effort to make this happen and government, education, and industry itself all have a major role to play."