With International Women’s Day celebrations imminent once again, the MAD-HR team has been reassessing the legal and ethical landscape in respect of workplace equality.

Do you know your obligations as an employer, and are you conscious of your role in helping to ‘#BreakTheBias’?

Gender equality is hardly a new phrase.

In fact, it’s a term so commonplace in daily media, that scarcely a day goes by when it isn’t mentioned in the context of a human story of some nature.

But what do we mean when we talk about achieving gender equality in the workplace – and are we, as a population of business leaders, company owners and work colleagues, really doing enough to ensure it’s a status that’s achieved to the extent it should be?

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In legal terms, we can look to the Equality Act of 2010, which brought together legislation coined back in the 1970s.

This held three central objectives:

  • to eliminate discrimination;
  • to advance equality of opportunity; and
  • to foster good relations.

Within the terms of this act, it was deemed unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of any of these characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion/belief, sex (gender) and sexual orientation. (You might also see these termed as ‘protected characteristics’).

As an employer, your unavoidable duty in conforming to this 2010 Act, is to illustrate:

– Knowledge of the law;
– Understanding of what is meant by discrimination, victimisation and harassment;
– Setting of standards of behaviour and create an inclusive culture;
– A clear, published complaints policy;
– Provision of training; and
– Making reasonable adjustments where necessary

Now that we understand more about the general context of Equality, let’s look in more detail at the ‘gender’ element of this.

When we talk about gender equality at work, we’re NOT only talking about pay.

We might also be considering sexual harassment, maternity discrimination, an implicit culture of masculinity, recruitment bias, inflexibility to agile or shared working practices.

In short, gender equality is about achieving a real parity in how everyone is recruited, trained, treated, paid and supported.

Taking some of these areas in turn, let’s look at how, as we mark International Women’s Day in 2022, you and your business could make assessments of your own part in achieving greater gender equality.

Harassment and abuse

Sadly, sexual harassment is still an issue in all too many workplaces. Indeed, CIPD states that four in 10 women had experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace.

Every business leader has it within their responsibility to be vigilant about incidents of this nature, to play a role in ensuring the company’s culture makes it categorically clear that such behaviour is unacceptable, and to have policies and procedures in place which swiftly treat with incidents where they occur.

No woman should ever have to feel intimidated in their workplace, or indeed, that they may be forced to vacate their role if they do not wish to face such activity on a daily basis.

Rightful recruitment scope

The CIPD has recently called on the government to ensure FTSE 350 firms achieve 20% female board-level executive directors by 2025 – and equal representation on boards by 2030.

While this is directly in respect of the largest most profitable UK firms, it should doubtless be an aspiration for all leaders and recruiters to see balance and fairness in who is recruited into leadership roles – and how that is achieved.

Have you looked at your approach to recruitment lately? Have you addressed the true fairness seen in how females are given access to attain higher-ranking roles? Is the right balance being seen within your business?

Culture of kindness

Once upon a time, a certain ‘lads’ culture’, and a degree of ‘workplace banter’, largely passed by as acceptable, with few women saying a word about how they were spoken to or treated.

Those days are, thankfully, in the past for the most part.

And yet, it’s all too easy for a company of some considerable standing, to allow an underlying culture to permeate even a more modernised way of working.

As an employer, it’s on you to ensure your staff are ALL trained in what is acceptable by way of communication and behaviour toward fellow colleagues.

It’s on you to ensure that legal and ethical obligations are understood, and yes, it’s on you to be clear that there is a specific process for complaints to be made, and for offenders of poor behaviour to be dealt with appropriately.

If you haven’t taken an objective look at your company’s underlying culture in recent times, and at whether there may be a degree of hidden (or indeed, more obvious) bias or behaviours, make the day of International Women’s Day the day you make a start!

Money matters

And so to money and pay.

Today’s gender pay gap in the UK sits at 17.3%, despite a significant amount of work and publicity on this area in recent years.

It means, therefore, that there is still an awful lot left to do.

Gender pay gap reporting has certainly improved matters, but providing that transparency in the figures is simply not enough.

Necessary beyond this, is the very actions which expose and amend the way women are paid, and how able women are to continue in their roles – particularly when you consider that, yes, whatever we like to think about progression, women still take on the dominant share of caring roles in daily life.

This ‘caring role’ might mean that they end up paying the so-called ‘motherhood penalty’ for becoming pregnant and then having a period of time out of their workplace, or it may mean that a female ends up being the person in the household who is required to make more of a compromise on their work and life balance in order to care for children during school years, or to play the role of carer for an elder person.

With these factors taken into account, it stands to reason that so many women end up feeling their capacity to earn and gain promotion in a firm, is often severely hampered.

The part business leaders can play in this, is ensuring that flexible working opportunities are always appropriately considered and that a woman’s genuine requirement to amend her working hours or approach are understood and respected.

After all, to lose a woman from a role because of a rigid intolerance to flexibility in the workplace, is only to lose potentially exceptional talent which could benefit your bottom line.

At MAD-HR, we love to work with companies on improving their approach to issues like gender equality.

If this article has caused you to consider a review of your approach, and you’d like help moving forward, contact us today.