Small steps for driving gender equality at work

February 2020

The gender pay gap for full-time employees under 40 years old in the UK is now close to zero. This is great news and shows we’re heading the right direction. However, the overall gender pay gap still stands at 8.9% – a proportion largely unchanged since 2018. This demonstrates more work is needed to create a gender-balanced society and avoid gender discrimination in the workplace.

 

According to the International Women’s Day annual study with Ipsos Mori, 17% of people still say they would feel uncomfortable having a female boss.

Equality between genders will only materialise if we all actively make positive steps towards it. Businesses are in a prime position to take the lead on this – to readdress the gender pay gap, to define and reverse gender discrimination and to end unconscious bias towards stereotypes.

If businesses consciously aim to end gender discrimination, we will have equal representation in the boardroom, the government, the health system, the films we watch, the sport shown on TV and much more. It starts with small steps. This International Women’s Day, why not pledge to make these small #EachforEqual changes?

 

Be transparent about equality

Gender equality shouldn’t be a PR exercise – it should be an integral part of your business management with clear policies to go with it. Be open about your gender equality stats. Businesses with over 250 employees need to publish their statistics, but there’s no reason why smaller companies shouldn’t do the same.

Be careful about the words you use in your policies and job adverts to make sure they’re inclusive. Research suggests that the word ‘manage’ encourages more men to apply for a job, while ‘develop’ attracts female applicants. A software called Textio could be the answer to removing gender-bias from job adverts. It scans the text and highlights terms that could be seen as exclusive and suggests alternatives.

 

Start the conversation

Workshops and discussions can be a great way to get people thinking, which is often the most important first step. You could create the session yourself and involve everyone, right up to the top of the organisation. Ask everyone to share their thoughts on the meaning of ‘gender equality’. Do they mention all genders or just men and women? Is it just about pay? Can they share an experience of discrimination? Do they believe their workplace is equal?

 

Create a company-wide mentoring programme

All too often, people feel they’ve been overlooked because of their gender, whether they’ve missed out on a promotion or believe their ideas go unheard. A McKinsey & Company study found that men are more likely to be promoted to manager level, which is a key reason why women only hold 38% of positions at this level.

Mentoring is an effective way to promote gender diversity and inclusion, while enabling people to develop key skills. Pair people across genders, departments and seniority levels to create a programme for them to learn, develop and share ideas.

Career mentoring gives people the chance to learn from others and grow in confidence. It also helps people to tell someone in a more senior position about how they feel at work, whether they’re feeling excited or concerned about their future. Those high up in the company will also be exposed to new ideas and can learn what’s happening ‘on the ground’.

 

Revoke the motherhood penalty

UK residents are able to take 50 weeks of shared parental leave, including 37 weeks of statutory pay. It’s a positive step forward, allowing both parents quality time with their child while reducing financial inequality. However, only 9,200 residents decided to share their parental leave in the 12 months up to March 2018 – that’s just 2% of those who were eligible.

Employers are in a position to open their employees’ eyes to the benefits of shared parental leave. Choosing to have a child shouldn’t affect just one person’s career path. In fact, it needn’t damage anyone’s career. Businesses can help their employees enjoy the work-life balance they want through flexibility.

What’s important is to avoid positive discrimination, whereby people with children have more options than those who don’t. Wanting to leave early to pick up a child from school can be just as important as wanting to leave early for an extra-curricular course. Allowing flexibility in general helps all employees choose what matters most to them, regardless of their gender or parental status.

 

Celebrate International Women’s Day

This year, why not make 8th March a date to remember? Marking International Women’s Day is an effective way to highlight gender equality. Getting involved also helps to instil the values of diversity and inclusion into your company culture.

Following the theme, #EachforEqual, International Women’s Day encourages everyone to challenge their own perceptions around stereotypes. Businesses can use the opportunity to open up conversations of their own around gender and the workplace.

There are a range of networking events and panel discussions happening at Fora, focusing on the #EachforEqual theme – why not book tickets for your team? Another option would be to order an event pack to decorate a room and arrange a team lunch where you all discuss a relevant topic.

If everyone’s short on time, you could simply make a charitable donation. Charities like Young Women’s Trust, the Fawcett Society and Plan International are just a few of the many tackling gender discrimination on many levels.

 

Ensuring senior buy-in for gender equality

For many organisations, the issue of gender inequality lies within the hands of the senior management team. Getting senior buy-in is key to making a real difference, but change doesn’t all need to be directed from the top. By raising awareness at all levels, you’ll help to drive the demand for change, all with a few small steps.