International Women’s Day recognises and celebrates women’s achievements but also acknowledges the challenges they continue to face. Thankfully, more women are now confident addressing inequality and will continue to #ChooseToChallenge to prove it is possible for women to be equal both in society and in the workplace.
The Legal Road to Equality
The UK has come a long way in relation to women’s rights over the years.
The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. It was not until this act that women were permitted to take their solicitor examinations and qualify. It is impossible to imagine that just over 100 years ago I and many of my very talented female colleagues would simply never have been able to pursue their legal careers.
The Equal Pay Act 1970 then sought to ensure that employers paid men and women equally for similar or equal work. Sadly, equal payments over 50 years later is still an area of dispute!
The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made it unlawful for women or men to be treated less favourably because of their sex. Before this act woman could be discriminated against or sacked for their marital status or being pregnant. The act also permitted maternity leave.
The Equality Act 2010 then took over and sought to address equality in pay and treatment for both men and women.
The Equality Act (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 then made it mandatory for employers with 250+ staff members to report salary figures for all employees showing if they had a gender pay gap. It is still discouraging to see those figures in even the most progressive looking businesses.
Although progress has been made, statistics show work is still needed around the issue of gender equality. April 2018 showed a 17.9% average pay gap and April 2019 showed an average of 11.9%. In April 2019 78% of companies overall had a pay gap in favour of men.
Even a global pandemic appears to have hit women harder than men with data from the UN suggesting it could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality. As more of us are at home than ever, household responsibilities have increased. Data confirms that both women and men are increasing their unpaid workloads, but women are still picking up the majority.
The Fawcett Society has recently indicated that women were more likely than men to lose work or be burdened with childcare in the pandemic, and I have to say that resonates with the experiences I hear about from my female friends. The Fawcett Society even suggest that there is a danger the gender pay gap would widen as a result. All of that said, fathers are now spending twice as much time caring for their children than before the pandemic so the impact on both parents is likely to felt. If this became the norm, however, this could potentially reduce the Gender Pay Gap.
How employers can improve gender equality
There are some basic principles that employers can use to close the gender pay gap and encourage safe communication, so topics such as gender equality can be discussed openly and honestly, including:-
In advertising for new jobs, employers would be wise to ensure job descriptions are written to appeal to both men and women and offer greater flexibility wherever possible to attract more applications from women. Pay should also be very carefully considered to ensure there is parity across the sexes. There should also be clear and objective criteria for any roles sought whether new or internal.
Dealing with Complaints correctly
This is the point of #ChoosetoChallenge. There should be issues – that’s normal for any employer, and employees should feel safe making complaints where things have gone wrong. It goes without saying that signs of any discrimination or harassment in the workplace should be dealt with immediately and not ignored or addressed as ‘banter’-imagine how few claims there would be if there was good communication and these issues were swiftly and carefully dealt with. Employers have a clear responsibility to identify and stop any discrimination, and these issues need to be dealt with fairly and with sensitivity. A fair and proper process should be implemented to make sure there isn’t any liability for exposure to such difficult and unpleasant claims.
Encouraging a good work/life balance
It was often the case the women would find some careers or roles less attractive once they had children and lots of incredible talent was lost through this juggling act. Increasingly, and largely as a result of being forced to work from home on Boris’s orders, employers are supporting and employees are enjoying a much healthier work/life balance.
Many firms are reaping the benefits of their employees working from home or working flexibly; of so much importance to women bearing the lion’s share of childcare responsibilities. Hopefully, with the support of caring and forward-thinking employers, there will be less need for women to #ChoosetoChallenge even if we are not there yet!