04 Jun 2018
Gender equality in the workplace has been making headlines in recent months and, along with workers’ rights, is one of the most significant issues facing employers in 2018.Gender pay gap reporting, which required companies with at least 250 employees to publish a report detailing various aspects of pay and bonus comparisons by 5th April 2018 garnered significant attention for larger employers. Smaller employers were not required to report, but it is recommended that all employers take appropriate measures to address gender equality in the workplace. Much of the confusion around gender pay reporting stemmed from the difference between gender pay gaps and equal pay. The latter is a legal requirement, as it is illegal to pay men and women different wages for the same role, the gender pay gap is the difference in pay for all men and women working within the same company regardless of the role they work in. Employers should consider all areas of the business when attempting to address gender inequality.
Equality in recruitmentImproving gender equality begins at the recruitment stage. Using multiple platforms (e.g. job boards, external recruitment companies and LinkedIn), when advertising for roles increases the exposure of the job listing, and as a result, reaches a more diverse audience. The language and format of job adverts should also be considered. Avoid the use of discriminatory gender specific terms such as “waitress” or “workman” and use gender neutral language so one particular gender isn’t discouraged from applying. The interview stage is critical in encouraging gender equality is improved and sustained. Having two interviewees in attendance, preferably of differing gender, helps avoid bias (perceived or genuine) and ensures fairness when deciding the best candidate to hire. This decision should always be made based on objective factors such as qualifications, experience and suitability. However, if two or more candidates are judged to be equally applicable for the role, employers are legally allowed to hire an individual of a particular gender providing this gender is underrepresented in their workforce. This is classed as ‘positive action’ and is made lawful under the Equality Act 2010.
Equality in pay and leaveSince the gender pay gap reports have come in, a noticeable trend among larger companies is that there is a lack of women carrying out senior roles within the business. One way of improving the diversity of those working in senior roles is to implement clear job descriptions and requirements for senior roles. Clarifying the specifications of the role encourages staff to apply for senior positions as they know they have the necessary experience and qualifications required. Offering increased pay on family friendly leave will encourage employees to make decisions on leave based on what works for their family, and not based on gender or financial pressures. This also increases the overall happiness of your workforce as you will be seen as a supportive employer.
Equality in smaller companiesIn smaller companies, it is vital to foster a culture of openness and acceptance in the workplace to ensure gender equality, as one-gender heavy workplaces can develop a negative culture. Small employers should make sure they have clear policies on sexual harassment and ensure all staff receive training on what workplace conduct is considered unacceptable. Any incident of sexual harassment should be treated seriously and necessary disciplinary action should be taken. If your staff work with the general public, there is a chance that they may experience harassment or discrimination from customers. In these cases, it is advised to take measures to protect staff from third party harassment by placing signs in clear view noting that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated. Whilst smaller employers may not necessarily face the same level of pressure to deal with gender inequality as larger companies might, they are not exempt from the issue. Carrying out voluntary gender pay gap reporting, and a review of staff pay and bonus structures to assess whether any gender bias exists will help show you are proactive in promoting equality in your workplace. Employers are legally required to provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of the gender of the employees, and they can use the results of this study to address any unconscious pay discrimination. This report does not need to be made public if you are a company with fewer than 250 employees, so should be used predominantly to address any pay disparities within your business. Introducing a formal pay structure to improve transparency around pay levels which will remove concerns about discriminatory pay rates will also help.
Consequences of inequalityFailing to take steps to improve gender equality can leave employers with disgruntled staff, especially with the matter being so present in public consciousness, leading to decreased engagement and productivity. There is also the risk of discrimination claims which could end up going to an employment tribunal and ultimately cause significant financial and reputational damage to your business. So what happens if businesses ignore the problem of gender inequality in the workplace? Shareholders, customers, prospective and existing employees will be watching closely to see how percentage gaps reduce over the coming years. The proof of how effective the initiatives that companies engage in to reduce gaps will be public as reporting is mandatory so there is ultimately a risk of loss of business, a loss of shareholder confidence and a risk of losing talent. Most importantly though a lack of attention to ensuring a diverse workforce will inhibit growth. Research has shown that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.
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