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Gender Equality in UK Workplaces

Gender equality in the workplace is an important topic to consider as you grow and develop your business. Discrimination on the basis of sex is illegal in the UK, and there are several key areas of this issue that you should work hard towards tackling in your workplace.

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What is gender equality in the workplace?

Gender equality is the imperative that everyone, regardless of gender, should be given the same rights and opportunities. As this article shows, there is information to support and describe the existence of gender inequality in the workplace, particularly for women and people with marginalised gender identities. Although steady progress has been made over the years in improving gender equality in the workplace, there are still several key areas where gender equality needs to be improved across work and employment spheres. These include the pay gap, the power gap, harassment and discrimination in the recruitment process.

You can start implementing gender equality into the structure of your business by introducing features like:

  • Equal pay and benefits for comparable roles with similar responsibilities
  • Equal opportunities for promotions and career progression
  • Equal consideration of needs, including safety and respect in the workplace

Benefits of gender equality in the workplace

You will find that creating an environment where all employees feel safe, where their merits are rewarded and they feel confident about raising important issues, will lead to a more productive and cohesive team. Here are some key benefits of striving to achieve gender equality in the workplace:

  • If you create a business environment that is attractive to people of all genders, you are likely to tap into a bigger pool of talent to choose from in the recruitment process;
  • Research shows that gender equality in the workplace benefits both male and female employees, with higher job satisfaction, increased productivity and lower job turnover;
  • It encourages new ideas and innovation when anyone is allowed to rise to the top.

Components of gender equality in the workplace

Men and women alike can be discriminated against on the basis of their sex in the workplace – rigid stereotypes can affect everyone. Men currently receive less paternity leave in the UK (paid leave being set at one to two weeks), and men are less likely to seek help with mental health issues, as they are still expected to maintain rigid control of their emotions. The discrimination that women face in the workplace has more of an impact on overall career development and the stability of their career throughout their life. Gender inequality in a UK workplace can be identified by these components:

Pay

The pay gap is characterised by one gender being paid less to do the same job as the other gender. Usually, women are paid less than men even if they hold the same positions, have similar work experience and educational backgrounds. The gender pay gap continues to be a large part of gender inequality in the workplace. The mean gap for workers in full-time roles is 13.1%, increasing to 16.2% for those in part-time roles, according to the Gender pay gap in the UK: 2020.

The existence of the pay gap may be attributed to the following causes:

  • No flexible options for women or carers in the workplace;
  • Women doing a lot of unpaid care labour;
  • Women’s work is categorically undervalued;
  • Women’s work is undervalued in the workplace and outside the home;
  • Discrimination over pay.

Furthermore, a study by Crossland Solicitors showed that 1 in 3 employers were less likely to hire a transgender person. So, not only is the pay gap an issue for gender equality in the workplace, but the hiring process itself can allow for gender-based discrimination.

Pregnancy/maternity discrimination

It is against UK law to discriminate against an employee because of their pregnancy or any pregnancy-related illness. However, a study by The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that one in five mothers were harassed or treated negatively because of their pregnancy. According to CIPD, there is a “motherhood penalty”; working mothers are considered to be less motivated and driven to achieve than female employees without children. Women who return to work after an absence are also more likely to have worse paid, lower-skilled jobs.

Lack of true representation

In STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields, it is well documented that women are underrepresented. Although the number of women in STEM is steadily rising (from 21% in 2016 to 24% in 2019), these are still very male-dominated fields. This domination can start as early as secondary school, where stereotypes about which genders are best suited to which roles are cemented, and can continue into the workplace.

Harassment

As the Equality and Human Rights Commission describes, more women experience sexual harassment at work than men. The Commission advises businesses to work towards creating a transparent workplace in which employees are comfortable with reporting such issues. Under the Equality Act 2010, if employers have not taken steps to prevent sexual harassment between employees, they can be considered liable in the event of such harassment occurring.

Leadership

As well as the pay gap, there is also a leadership or “power gap”. According to the BBC, men hold 62% of managerial positions, as opposed to just 38% of women. Additionally, according to the same source, slightly more women experience what is known as “imposter syndrome” at work, where a lack of effective representation means that women in male-dominated fields doubt their own performance abilities.

How to promote gender equality in the workplace

Promoting gender equality might seem like a big challenge at first, requiring a reorganisation of your work policies and culture. However, you will find that it will have a positive impact on the success of your workforce in the long term. Your team will be happier if everyone’s contribution is valued.

Here are some points to consider if you are looking to create more gender equality in the workplace:

In the recruitment process

Women are underrepresented in fields like STEM, and you can tackle this in the recruitment process. To address any form of discrimination in your company, you may want to trial “blind recruitment” for certain roles.

During a blind recruitment, you can audition or test the skills of your candidate without knowing their gender, race or other background information; you are solely examining their aptitude for the job. There are pros and cons to this style of recruitment, such as not being able to get a good insight into your candidate’s personality, so you will want to consider them all. Blind recruitment is useful for jobs that require specific skills, such as coding, engineering or performing in an orchestra, but there are stereotypes on the basis of gender about who is best at them.

Addressing the power gap

Support internal growth opportunities for all employees, give unconscious bias training to your line managers, and empower women in your team with bonuses and rewards for strong achievements. Train managers effectively in conflict handling, how to handle cases of harassment, and leading by example. You should also consider building your whole team’s toolkit through diversity and inclusion training courses. Make sure you encourage senior managers to lead by example by taking flexitime.

Effective parental leave

Many modern workforces have a flexible scheme in place for new mothers and fathers, so they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. Aviva allows their employees to take 26 weeks of parental leave regardless of gender or their sexual orientation or whether they have given birth. Some companies, such as UKFast, have an on-site creche. Consider creating your own attractive policy package around parental leave and support, to attract and hold on to the best talent.

Revise pay secrecy policies

As stated in the UK Equality Act 2010, secrecy clauses are legal but have a few restrictions. For example, you cannot stop your employees from discussing pay in order to find out whether there is a connection between their set wage and a “protected characteristic” such as sex or race.

The more employees discuss salary information, the more aware they may become of gender inequalities in the workplace. Therefore, it is best policy to make it clear to your employees that you aim to pay all staff equally and that they will be fairly compensated.

In addition, consider publishing salary data. Recording and sharing salary information with employees can help to assure your workforce that everyone is being paid fairly and that gender pay equality is a priority.

Some companies publish pay brackets that outline the salary for each role along with the general requirements for the position. This step can help eliminate any bias.

Promote work-life balance

Parents can find it challenging to achieve their career goals because of the challenges that come with working while bringing up a family. To relieve stress for working parents, some companies offer parental leave for both mothers and fathers. Workplace flexibility is also something many people look for when evaluating whether they want to work for a company. This option is especially appealing for parents who may need flexibility to better balance a career and bringing up children. Many companies are addressing this by offering employees the option to work from home part-time or full-time, or by giving them the option of telecommuting.

Keep accurate documentation

Lastly, document each employee’s qualifications, pay, position, education and work experience. There are many times when an employee may deserve to be paid more than a colleague in the same role, but employers are responsible for making these distinctions based on concrete evidence.

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