Now is not the time to take our focus away from gender equality

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion, CIPD

We need to ensure that Diversity and Inclusion issues remain front and centre in our workforce decision-making and plans during and coming out of this pandemic.

Organisations are placing a stronger focus on workforce inclusion and wellbeing overall

Encouragingly, CIPD survey data suggests that diversity and inclusion are still very much on employers’ radars. In the short-term at least, employers are pausing on big programmes of work and placing a stronger focus on workforce inclusion and wellbeing overall, as well as seeking a greater understanding of employees’ individual and personal circumstances. All things that are really important, given the challenging circumstances we are all experiencing.

Yet the pandemic has accentuated gender inequalities

However, recent research from IFS/ UCL, shines a light on the negative impact of the pandemic on working parents and working mothers in particular, with:

  • Mothers more likely than fathers to have left paid work since February. 
  • Among mothers and fathers who are still in paid work, mothers have seen a bigger proportional reduction in hours of work than fathers.
  • Among those doing paid work at home, mothers are more likely than fathers to be spending their work hours simultaneously trying to care for children.

ONS data on parenting in lockdown shows that many parents have had to change their work routines around childcare, and that parents were at significant risk of furlough. Data from a Pregnant then screwed survey of almost 20,000 mothers and pregnant women in July this year found that 46% of mothers being made redundant blame a lack of childcare provision during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the CIPD, we believe it is crucial that organisations follow the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guidance on making non-discriminatory workforce decisions. And, while most children are back at schools and nurseries, we know childcare provision is likely to be limited over the school holidays and at the start and end of the school days. It’s important therefore, that working parents are properly supported by their line managers and that employers offer flexible working and flexibility over role responsibilities during this challenging period where parents are trying to juggle childcare and work responsibilities. It’s also important to supporting working carers whose existing demands are likely to have become more acute and stressful as a result of the pandemic.

Build on the evidence of what works when progressing gender equality

All of these findings emphasise the need for employers not to take their focus away from the important issue of gender equality. The Government’s Equality Office and the Behavioural Insights Team have gathered evidence around the practices that work when it comes to progressing gender equality. We would encourage organisations to build on this evidence to introduce and progress ways of supporting greater gender equality at all levels:

  1. Include multiple women in shortlists for recruitment and promotions

When putting together a shortlist of qualified candidates, make sure more than one woman is included. Shortlists with only one woman do not increase the chance of a woman being selected.

  1. Use skill-based assessment tasks in recruitment

Rather than relying only on interviews, ask candidates to perform tasks they would be expected to perform in the role they are applying for. Use their performance on those tasks to assess their suitability for the role. Standardise the tasks and how they are scored to ensure fairness across candidates.

  1. Use structured interviews for recruitment and promotions

Structured and unstructured interviews both have strengths and weaknesses, but unstructured interviews are more likely to allow unfair bias to creep in and influence decisions. Use structured interviews that:

  • Ask exactly the same questions of all candidates in a predetermined order and format • Grade the responses using pre-specified, standardised criteria.

This makes the responses comparable and reduces the impact of unconscious bias.

  1. Encourage salary negotiation by showing salary ranges

Women are less likely to negotiate their pay. This is partly because women are put off if they are not sure about what a reasonable offer is. Employers should clearly communicate the salary range on offer for a role to encourage women to negotiate their salary. This helps the applicant know what they can reasonably expect. In addition, if the salary for a role is negotiable, employers should state this clearly as this can also encourage women to negotiate. If women negotiate their salaries more, they will end up with salaries that more closely match the salaries of men.

  1. Introduce transparency to promotion, pay and reward processes

Transparency means being open about processes, policies and criteria for decision-making. This means employees are clear what is involved, and that managers understand that their decisions need to be objective and evidence-based because those decisions can be reviewed by others. Introducing transparency to promotion, pay and reward processes can reduce pay inequalities.

  1. Appoint diversity managers and/ or diversity task forces

Diversity managers and taskforces monitor talent management processes (such as recruitment or promotions) and diversity within the organisation. They can reduce biased decisions in recruitment and promotion because people who make decisions know that their decision may be reviewed. This accountability can improve the representation of women in your organisation.

The GEO/ BIT guidance also includes a list of actions they believe are promising in progressing gender equality and require further research to improve the evidence on their effectiveness and how best to implement them.

With the economic uncertainties of Covid-19, there was a concern that I&D could slip down, or even off, an organisations’ agenda, but the crisis has also presented a huge opportunity to make these issues a real priority at a time where workplaces are more fragmented with employees working from home.

The pandemic has brought to the forefront some of the key issues around equality and the need for inclusivity, and it will be organisations putting diversity at the centre of their workforce planning that will be more likely to retain employee trust and confidence. As we emerge from the crisis, we will likely see the strength of diverse and supportive workplaces in adapting to new ways of working and long-term success.


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  • This is an important article Claire.  As we see an accelerated shift to new ways of working in terms of flexibility, remote working there is a risk of a distinct negative impact on the gender parity journey.  As people professionals our response to this is going to have to be innovative, authentic and commerical.