What more can we do to tackle gender inequalities in our workplaces?

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing & Inclusion

This month sees the celebration of International Women’s day on March and the accompanying call to recognise women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality #IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge.

In a recent blog post I emphasised that now is not the time to take our focus away from gender equality in our workplaces.’ The health and economic impacts of the pandemic have affected men and women in different ways. Whilst the data shows that more men have sadly died from COVID-19 globally compared to women, we believe that women have been hit hard by the economic and social impact in the UK. For instance, mothers on the lowest incomes are eight times more at risk of losing their jobs due to school closures1:  two-thirds of working mothers said they were the ‘default’ parent during lockdown (taking on the bulk of home schooling and other childcare)2 and globally, women are disproportionately represented in industries that declined in 2020 due to COVID-193, such as retail and hospitality.

Two new parliamentary reports from the Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Women and Work APPG provide an overview of yet more evidence of the impact of the pandemic on women’s lives and their work – we fed into the Women and Work APPG’s call for evidenceThe reports underline the fact that the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, compounding the difficulties faced by different women and their families. Amongst women, they also emphasise that the impacts have not been felt equally, with ethnic minority women and working-class women being hit the hardest. They also call on the Government to incorporate the lived experience of women across the country in policies for recovery and economic stimulus or risk leaving women behind.

Taking action

I want to pick up on three areas in particular that can help organisations to take action to address gender inequality.

Practices that work when progressing gender equality

Given that the pandemic has widened inequality across the UK, employers should consider enhanced actions that they might need to take to help address gender inequality. For example, 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. These include actions such as: including multiple women in shortlists for recruitment and promotions, using structured interviews for recruitment and promotions, and being transparent about pay and promotion processes.

Supporting the right to request flexible working from day one

Flexible working also supports inclusion and diversity in the workforce, and the CIPD has recently launched the #FlexFrom1st campaign calling on organisations and the Government to introduce the right to request flexible working from day one of employment to support opportunities for all. This is also a highlighted recommendation in both the parliamentary reports outlined above.

Timely Gender pay gap reporting with narratives and action plans

As my colleague Charles Cotton, argues in his recent blog post, Gender pay gap reporting is an important tool for ensuring that the way we manage, develop and reward people is fair. Employers can boost the impact of reporting by explaining, through a narrative to stakeholders, why the figures are what they are and by setting out in an action plan the steps they plan to take to make the workplace fairer.

For that reason, we’re pleased that the Equality and Human Rights Commission  (EHRC) has announced that, despite the upheaval of the pandemic, large employers are still required to report their gender pay gap data this year. Enforcement action against employers that fail to report won’t kick in until 5 October this year, but the annual deadline for reporting hasn’t really moved: it’s still 30 March for the public sector and 4 April for the private and voluntary sectors.  We support the EHRC’s encouragement for employers to submit their data as soon as they are readyThe earlier an employer can disclose its figures, then the earlier it can review its progress and begin taking the necessary steps to achieve meaningful change.

You can read more practical steps for employers in our updated gender pay gap reporting guide.

I’ll finish off by leaving you with the words from the International Women’s Day 2021 campaign:

A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let's all choose to challenge.

How will you help forge a gender equal world?

  1. Women’s Budget Group, Fawcett Society, Women’s Budget Group Northern Ireland, Women’s Equality Network Wales, Close the Gap and Engender. 2021. Mothers on the lowest incomes are nine times more at risk of losing their job due to school closures in the UK. [online]. Available at: https://wbg.org.uk/media/press-releases/mothers-on-the-lowest-incomes-are-eight-times-more-at-risk-of-losing-their-job-due-to-school-closures-in-the-uk/
  2. University of Sussex. 2020. Mums doing lion’s share of childcare and home-learning during lockdown – even when both parents work [online]. Available at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/52267
  3. Magdavkar, A., White, O., Krishan, M. and Mahajan, D., 2020. COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects. [online] Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects


Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.