Britain needs more senior women in politics, the judiciary and in company boardrooms, David Cameron has said, after admitting his wife pesters him on the issue.
The prime minister made the concession during a visit to Unilever's headquarters in India, where he is leading a large trade delegation this week.
When asked by a female employee whether India had any lessons to learn from the UK, Cameron downplayed the extent of Britain's progress in the field.
"Companies, political parties and other organisations need to actively go out and encourage women to join in, to sign up, to take the course, to become part of the endeavour," he said.
"Just opening up and saying 'you're welcome to try if you want to' doesn't get over the fact that there have been all sorts of barriers in the way."
The PM said Samantha Cameron was constantly pressuring him to put more women in the Cabinet.
He added: "My wife likes to say that if you don't have women in the top places, you are not just missing out on 50% of the talent, you are missing out on a lot more than 50% of the talent – and I think she probably has a point."
But the prime minister has been reluctant to adopt the positive discrimination approach favoured by the Labour party, which only this week selected an all-women shortlist for the key marginal seat of Stockton South.
The Conservatives took the seat in 2010 from female MP Dari Taylor, who had held it since 1997, but have a majority of just 332 and will be high on Ed Miliband's target list come 2015.
"The party will begin discussions with the local party on the timetable for the contest shortly," Labour North was quoted as saying by the local Evening Gazette newspaper.