Managers of leading professional firms are growing ‘diversity weary’, according to the organisers of a poll of business leaders.

Research commissioned by City firm Reed Smith found concerns that ‘a flurry’ of initiatives to encourage more women into senior roles could lead to a backlash.

The poll, of 78 business leaders taking part in gender equality schemes, included a number of top law firms.

The report says: ‘There are almost as many diversity programmes as there are companies trying to implement them.‘This hit-or-miss approach has created a flurry of activity but very few positive results.’

Reed Smith said firms must establish a clear business case for gender balancing and obtain real leadership commitment to the idea.

Diversity programmes should focus on future leaders, set incentives for compliance, and communicate successes and failures, the report says.

But business leaders who took part in the survey were against quotas for diversity, with 74% feeling they were counter-productive. Respondents said that spending time and money on programmes to ‘help’ women may also have the opposite effect, because it feeds the stereotype that women are less competent.

Richard Swinburn (pictured), London office managing partner at Reed Smith, said: ‘Gender balancing is often seen as a women’s issue of fairness and equality. It is not. It is part and parcel of talent development and the activity of companies to deploy diverse teams of talented people.