Key Steps for Eliminating Gender Inequality in the Workplace

In this guest article, Susie Al-Qassab, Solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, explains how employers can break down four different barriers to gender equality identified within the UK government’s Workplace and Gender Equality Research.

The series of reports identified that the main barriers holding women back are tensions between working and caring for a family, biases around pay and promotions, negativity surrounding and a shortage of quality part-time work, and difficult workplace cultures (i.e. sexism).

These barriers pose various issues for women that can stunt their career progression:

1. Pay and promotion biases 

Those in authority tend to promote individuals who most reflect themselves or try to replicate the characteristics of the person who previously held the position. This can put women at a disadvantage as they are less likely to be viewed as possessing the relevant traits of an ideal candidate, as more decision-makers are men than women.

2. Difficult workplace cultures 

When an organisation is male-dominated, women tend to feel isolated and in some cases, this isolation leads to a lack of confidence, meaning they are less likely to put themselves forward for more senior roles. In more hostile environments, it was reported a women’s competence was based on sexist assessments from co-workers or clients, which ultimately affected the woman’s ability to progress.

3. Caring for a family 

The average full-time employee works 42.3 hours per week. Combine that with the fact that women perform 74% of childcare in the UK, and this curtails a mother’s ability to work longer hours. This jeopardises her progression in the workplace and overall participation in the labour market. A prevailing organisational norm is equating constant availability and overwork as a sign of a committed worker.

4. Part-time work 

There has been some success with flexible working patterns being offered in the UK, such as job sharing, however, these are mainly being offered to high-skilled workers at management level. Furthermore, full-time hours are seen as the norm, so working part-time or flexible hours can be viewed as exhibiting a lack of commitment or being unprofessional. Additionally, there seems to be an implementation gap when organisations have policies about providing flexible working but do not put them into practice if it is requested.

These are by no means exhaustive, but here are four steps that employers can take to begin to break down these barriers and help their female colleagues succeed:

1. Implement objective promotion and pay increase procedures 

A more formal and transparent system should be implemented on what are the deciding factors/criteria for awarding a pay increase and promotion. This should be combined with mechanisms to ensure that these have oversight and put in place accountability measures. Many also argue for non-compliance with pay-gap reporting to have more severe and well-publicised consequences.

2. Zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment 

ACAS provides steps on how employers can prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Support should be given to anyone involved in a sexual harassment complaint. Also, provide training on how to recognise sexual harassment and provide ways on how to report it. Plus, putting in place robust policies and procedures for dealing with sexual harassment and handling complaints.

3. Be more flexible and creative with working hours 

For example part-time, flexi-time, compressed workweeks, telecommuting and job sharing. It is also useful to provide personal resources such as training to supervisors and employees on how to support each other through these changes.

4. Promote flexible working procedures and guidance  

Organisations need to implement robust flexible working procedures and guidance, and train managers on how to manage part-time workers from the initial request through to implementation. Furthermore, flexible working should be promoted within corporate culture more widely and more positively, at all levels, so it is normalised as a feature of the modern workplace.