Gender Equality at work – what can employers do?

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Written by: Alcumus
14th March

Celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) in 2022

There has been a lot of publicity this year surrounding this topic, so you are probably aware that March 8th was International Women’s Day.

Historically, recognition of the day can be traced back to 1911 but it wasn’t until 1975, that the United Nations began celebrating IWD and in 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women's rights and world peace.

Under the United Nation’s IWD’s theme of “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, we felt that this would be a good opportunity to remind our clients of their responsibilities under Gender pay reporting and to look at the progress being made to achieve gender equality at work.

From 2017, any employer with a headcount of 250 or more on their ‘snapshot date’ has had to comply with regulations on gender pay gap reporting. Gender pay gap calculations are based on payroll data drawn from a specific date each year. This specific date is called the ‘snapshot date’ which is determined by which regulations you come under.  For private and voluntary employers, this is 5 April.

What is the Gender Pay Gap?

The gender pay gap is the difference between the average (mean or median) earnings of men and women across a workforce. This is expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. For example, ‘women earn 15% less than men per hour’. The gender pay gap can be calculated across a whole workforce, but also for subgroups. For example, based on age or work patterns like part-time work. This helps to understand if certain subgroups are affected more than others.

How to report your Gender Pay Gap

Employers that are required to report and publish their gender pay gap information must:

  • report and publish their gender pay gap information within a year following their ‘snapshot date’. This applies for each year that employers have a headcount of 250 or more on their snapshot date
  • report their gender pay gap information to the government online, using the Gender pay gap service
  • publish their gender pay gap information (and written statement if applicable) in a prominent place on their employer’s public-facing website

Employers may also publish a supporting narrative and an action plan to help explain their gender pay gap and the actions they plan to take. Although this is discretionary at present, the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) and the UK Government are urging organisations to publish a transparent narrative about the factors that are driving their gender pay gap and the actions they are taking to close the gap. These will help to explain the factors that are shaping women’s experience of work.

Who should report their Gender Pay Gap?

Equally, although employers are not required to comply with the regulations if they have a headcount of less than 250, they are encouraged to give serious consideration to the business benefits of doing so.

If your employer is part of a group you must calculate, report and publish your gender pay gap information for each separate legal entity (each employer) that has a headcount of 250 or more on your ‘snapshot date’ but a corporation can also voluntarily report and publish combined figures for the entire group.

Gender pay gap reporting in the UK was a radical step and it has forced employers to pay attention to the issue of pay and opportunities for women at work. Although it focuses on only a few key data points, conversations around pay equality is growing and the data which it is forcing businesses to acknowledge and explore are immensely valuable.

Today, far too many women are still having to fight to be taken seriously, to be given a job offer, a promotion and, in some instances, equal pay.

Where gender pay gaps exist, most reporting Companies are attributing this to the fact that there are more men in senior level positions in the business and more women in lower-level roles. Therefore, if nothing else, gender pay reporting is highlighting gender imbalance in organisations.

So, why is this the case?

Although women make up an increasing proportion of the working population (according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), nearly 72% of women aged between 16 and 64 were in work in 2021, up from 65% in 2011) they continue to be the main caregiver in families, for both young children and increasingly elderly relatives. This is a key factor that limits many women’s progression and aspirations at work.

Until we see greater equality of roles in the home and in society, it will be difficult to see this reflected in the workplace so supporting women to help them remain in the workforce is therefore vital, especially in these times of skill shortages.

How can you support gender equality at work?

Employers can support this by actively encouraging flexible working opportunities, job-shares and part-time roles, not just for women but for all working parents. By building more inclusive, more flexible workplaces we will, in time, not only narrow the gender pay gap but also improve the UK’s productivity.

Back in November 2017, the Government’s White Paper “Building a Britain fit for the future” set out the UK’s industrial strategy and part of this was to seek to “increase productivity in SMEs through a range of policies including encouraging the adoption of modern business practices”.

So, what are the drivers for productivity and how can you raise productivity while sustaining quality? We know that positive experiences drive productivity, but employers and employees can have different views on what’s important, so it is essential to understand what motivates your employees.  What has been shown is that flexibility and appreciation at work are critical to driving productivity and that being valued and recognised are the most important aspect of employees’ day-today employment experience.

The Government continues to believe that flexibility is instrumental in increasing UK productivity and even prior to Brexit and the pandemic had been concerned that the number of employees using formal flexible working arrangements – such as part-time working, term-time working, compressed hours and job-sharing – had not increased since 2010. This was despite the right to request flexible working being extended to all employees in 2014.

What are the benefits of flexible working?

The business benefits of flexible working include:

  • Improving productivity by increasing employee motivation
  • Addressing skill and labour shortages by making work more accessible to older people and those with caring responsibilities, for example        
  • Boosting job satisfaction, engagement and well-being, while also helping to reduce sickness absence
  • Helping organisations to retain staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities
  • Creating more diverse workforces which reduces the gender pay gap by giving more opportunities for women to progress into senior roles.

We have deep-rooted societal issues that will take time to change but in years to come, it is likely that we will look back at 2020-2022 as a period of great change in the history of work.  Thanks to the traditional work model being turned upside down courtesy of covid and lockdown, the world of work is changing fast - certainly from the perspective of business owners, but employees are also questioning what they want from work. Taking positive steps such as introducing flexible working will enable women, just as much as men, to reach their full potential at work.

Studies related to IWD have also highlighted other concerning findings related to women in work including ONS data revealing that over one million women in the UK could quit their jobs because of lack of menopause support from their employers and

a November 2021 YouGov poll, showed that 55% of women said their professional life has become more stressful since the start of the pandemic.

It is crucial therefore that employers pay attention to women’s mental health and measure the wellbeing of their workforce in general.  When a woman works for an employer that promotes inclusive work cultures, has impressive employee benefits, outstanding development opportunities, good flexible working practices, rewarding career opportunities and women in senior roles in the Company, she will be less likely to look for another employer.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a time for everyone to reflect on the social, economic, cultural and political achievements for women. And with gender parity high up on the agenda for many employers, this day also calls for further action to improve opportunities for women at work.

Sally Grundy, Senior HR Consultant.

Please contact the Alcumus PSM HR team for further advice on the above, by emailing [email protected] or call us on 01484 439930.
Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health and safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.