Last reviewed 17 July 2019
Announced by the Women and Equalities Minister, the roadmap intends to address gender inequality at every stage of the journey into, and during, employment. With steps being taken by the Government to implement the roadmap, what changes could be in store for employers?
In recent years, inequality studies have focused on the role that gender has on individuals’ ability to gain and retain employment, as well as to earn money and save for the future. Initiatives in tackling gender inequality have subsequently followed, cemented by the introduction of a legal requirement on larger employers to annually calculate and publish their gender pay gap statistics. It has been acknowledged, however, that simply reporting on the gap between male and female earnings will not resolve gender inequality, although it is a first step towards shedding light on a certain aspect of this.
Indeed, the newly-released Gender equality at every stage: a roadmap for change makes reference to the fact that women are generally more qualified than their male counterparts, but are less likely to progress in the working environment, are over three times more likely to be employed in part-time work and will generally work in lower paid roles. Although it is reiterated that gender inequality can, and does, occur for males, the roadmap highlights eight key factors which are driving inequality as well as setting out actions that the Government will take to address these areas in the future.
Factors driving gender inequality
Interestingly, the roadmap considers the factors that are contributing towards inequality across the entire journey into work for females, starting with early ages and schooling, right up to pension age. For example, recognising that attitudes towards gender can have a significant impact at an early age, these views are thought to contribute towards the decisions individuals make regarding the subjects they will study throughout school and university, as well as impacting the type of career that is deemed “suitable” and achievable for their gender.
Turning to factors that are present in employment, the roadmap highlights the higher likelihood of females working in lower paid sectors and occupations, as well as their lower likelihood of progression within their profession, when compared to males. Such factors will have a significant impact on inequality due to segregation within sectors and occupations based on gender. It is further suggested that within industries where predominantly females work, such as secondary teaching, the make-up of senior roles will remain disproportionately skewed in favour of male employees.
Alongside the gender distribution within the labour market, females continue to take greater periods of time out of work due to factors such as caring for children and providing care for others, including their dependants. Indeed, it is estimated that the gender difference in taking time out of work, and therefore receiving lower pay, and potentially negatively impacting progression opportunities and timescales, is the highest driving factor towards the gender pay gap, with its contribution towards the gap set at 40%.
On the flip side of time out of work, the roadmap also considers the barriers that may be faced by women who have a period out of employment before seeking to return to the labour market. Due to the gap in skills and experience, this is thought to prevent females from returning at a level which they worked at prior to their time out. As a result, these employees are likely to be working in a lower position, with the accompanying pay and progression limitations this brings, in comparison to male employees who will generally not be placed in similar circumstances or face these barriers.
The Government’s actions
With further analysis of the root causes of gender inequality, and how additional advice, guidance and support will improve action on this matter, the gender equality roadmap sets out the steps the Government will take to address the underlying driving factors which have been identified.
Outlining its intention to achieve a better gender balance, as well as help more women enter and progress within the labour market at an equal rate to males, closing the gender pay gap within sectors and encouraging actions taken by employers to address disparity are both set out within the roadmap as actions to be taken. The Government will continue its work already started in certain sectors, one example being the implementation of the Women in Finance Charter, and will start their work in other sectors. Prioritisation of those sectors which are associated with one gender and are high-profile, such as financial services and engineering, is hoped to have a greater impact on progression opportunities. Alongside a national campaign focusing on how employers can support gender progression within their workforce, the Government is also reviewing current gender pay gap reporting rules, with any proposed changes being consulted on by 2021, and examining whether additional information should be uploaded by employers on the online publication website, such as their family-friendly policies or gender retention rates.
Turning to career breaks, the Government uses the roadmap to reiterate its aim to ensure both parents can make free choices about how to balance work and care, without having to focus on gender. Recognising the contribution of balanced parental leave, the roadmap reiterates that the Government is currently reviewing Shared Parental Leave and Pay schemes with a view to assess how effective this leave is, and how to improve the current system. As well as providing additional information to parents who are making decisions on parental leave, confirmation of a consultation on transparency of organisations’ family leave and policies is contained within the roadmap. The Government is encouraging employers to include flexible working availability in job adverts, as well as enhanced shared parental policies, and making these user-friendly for employees.
Other actions to be taken by the Government include:
Consulting on the introduction of dedicated carer rights for those in employment, such as statutory carer’s leave.
Launching a consultation reviewing sexual harassment laws, including whether to extend the three-month time limit within which to bring a claim of harassment or discrimination.
Developing and improving guidance on gender equality in apprenticeships, including the provision of flexible or part-time apprenticeships.
Setting up a taskforce to consider necessary action to tackle discriminatory cultures in relation to pregnancy and maternity.
With a wide-ranging announcement of governmental actions, the roadmap presents the Government’s clear intention on this matter. While a range of actions may be necessary, these will be supported by the Government focusing on improving employer support and advice on many key areas, for example, in how to implement returner schemes which correctly support the return of professionals back into employment after a career break, while avoiding discrimination and ensuring they are a worthwhile investment for business.
Although the roadmap is certainly clear on one point; if employers focus on improving gender inequality, alongside support and improvement measures from the Government, their bottom line will improve. Reducing gender gaps in wages, STEM qualifications and participation in the labour market will increase the UK economy by £55 billion by 2030. For individual employers, the roadmap sets out the statistics that organisations who were placed in the top 25% for gender diversity, based on their executive positions, were 21% more likely to achieve above-average profitability when compared to organisations in the bottom 25% for diversity. With profit being an ever-present factor controlling what businesses see as important, perhaps the roadmap is a timely reminder on the steps employers can take to improve gender inequality however big or small.