How employers can improve gender equality

By Kate Palmer

Following a judge-led audit in to pay practices of the BBC, there were discrimination concerns when the organisation released their list of highest paid staff in July 2017. The negativity of this release has continued into 2018 due to the well-publicised resignation of Carrie Gracie, the international editor for China, over pay disparity. The pay disclosure revealed Gracie was paid much less than two male international editors and she has resigned because she did not want to “collude” in unlawful pay discrimination.

Employers have a legal duty to pay equal pay for equal work, regardless of the gender of the employees. There is, however, widespread recognition that there is a pay gap between the genders and the government introduced the gender pay gap reporting requirements to force businesses to take action in this area. It is thought gender pay gap reports may lead to more complaints, grievances and potentially tribunal claims about the fairness, and equality, of internal pay practices. A toolkit recently released by the Government Equalities Office contains actions organisations can take to improve gender equality in their workplace.

Gender equality should take place in every part of the workplace, from start to finish of an employee’s journey within the company. Targeting the recruitment process at a diverse mix of candidates, through use of different platforms, will encourage equality and diversity from the outset. Advertisements should be gender-neutral to avoid alienating those of a specific gender and any bias in the selection process can be removed by introducing objective scoring, skills-based hiring and having at least two people involved in the interview process.

Job adverts which state the role is flexible at the outset or flexible hours will be considered will improve gender equality as it may encourage applications from individuals with personal or home responsibilities, such as females with childcare needs. Having a flexible working policy which is applied fairly and reasonably across all members of staff will support, and increase, gender equality in the workplace. The culture and mindset of the employer are also important here; those who view flexible working as a positive means of supporting staff are more likely to retain their talent and will see improved equality across the workforce.

Supporting staff with caring and parental responsibilities will also contribute towards improved gender equality. Where finances allow, offering staff increased rates of family pay over and above statutory payments, e.g. enhanced maternity pay, will provide workplace support to those with families and increase the likelihood of the employee staying with the business. Implementing a clear and straightforward shared parental leave policy, and having a positive attitude towards this leave, will also improve gender equality as it provides support for male employees who wish to have an equal role in the upbringing of families. In turn, this will see more female employees being able to choose the amount of time they have off work depending on what is best for their family.

Pay is, as ever, an important factor for employees. Pay should be set dependent on the job role and a formal pay structure can be introduced to improve the transparency around pay levels; removing concerns about discriminatory pay rates. All decisions on pay, such as pay increases, should be made objectively and the employee can be informed of the reasoning behind the decision to avoid any misunderstanding or complaints. An annual equal pay audit could be introduced to assess whether gender bias is taking place, either consciously or unconsciously.

Kate Palmer is Head of Advisory and Equality Expert at Peninsula Head