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These initiatives are challenging gender inequality in the workplace

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Choose to Challenge. A call, we believe, is needed now more than ever.

This is because in the months since last year’s event, the world has changed beyond recognition. Women, especially those from marginalised communities, are bearing the biggest brunt of the effects of the pandemic both at home and at work. They experience inequality at work in regards to pay and prospects. Lockdown after lockdown has also shown the vast gulf of inequality at home.

As employers and leaders, we need to acknowledge this and do what we can to challenge the status quo by recognising the value women bring to the workplace.

At BiteSize Learning we asked our training associates to nominate initiatives they feel are helping to bring positive change for women now.

Transparency on financial rewards

The fair rewarding of women’s work has been a controversial issue for decades. Changes to the Equality Act in 2017 introduced compulsory gender pay reporting in companies with more than 250 people. But the initiative was suspended last year due to coronavirus. This year’s deadline is also delayed much to the anger of equality campaigners.

With the coming months most likely leading to large numbers of redundancies, employment layer Hannah Strawbridge is calling on firms to sign up to the Fair Redundancy Pledge.

Similar to gender pay reporting, those signing up will need to make their redundancy process as transparent as possible. This means showing discrepancies between gender and job title.

Writing on her website, Hannah says: “The pledge is simple. We’re asking employers to declare the splits of their redundancy programmes by age, race, disability and gender. Our gut instinct is that women, individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds, the disabled and people of certain ages are going to be disproportionately affected by Covid-related redundancy.

“Firms which take the pledge, are less likely to impose disproportionate redundancies on women, the disabled, the young and the old and those from minority backgrounds.”

Giving time off for new parents

Inequality typically starts in the home with women undertaking the burden of unpaid duties such as cooking, cleaning and childcare.

But what can companies do to help redress this imbalance? There is growing evidence to support the notion that a father’s involvement at birth is both good for relationship stability as well as the long term health of women.

Offering time off and financial stability to working parents when a new baby arrives can be of huge influence here.

A good example is an initiative set up by Vodafone, which offers all its employees (both birthing and non-birthing parents) 16 weeks of fully-paid parental leaves to be taken anytime in the first 18 months. In addition, parents can phase their return by working up to four days a week at full pay for another six months.

With millennials – the generation currently starting the majority of new families – comprising 25 per cent of the global workforce by 2025, this makes economic and fair sense. It also becomes an attractive draw when recruiting new talent.

Savvy with job recruitment

The number of FTSE 100 female directors has risen by 50% in the last five years. These are the findings from the Hampton-Alexander review – set up to increase the representation of women in senior business roles.

This is a high-profile example of the many ways companies are actively trying to address the imbalances in the workplace.

You can make much smaller changes too. First show how your workplace welcomes people from all genders and backgrounds on your website. Amplify this on social channels through images and stories. This is where prospective candidates go first when applying for a job.

When it comes to posting jobs adverts, you can make sure the wording does not reflect gender bias by using tools like this decoder.

Another option is to demonstrate you are open to a conversation about flexible working. You can even download a logo from the work/life balance charity Working Lives to include on your adverts.

There is a note of caution on flexible working. The pandemic experience has further divided opinion on this. Several studies have shown it has created additional burdens on employees and contributed to issues like presenteeism and burn-out.

As future of work researcher and writer Christine Armstrong points out in her latest video, employers and employees need to learn from the lockdown experience of flexible working.  It is an opportunity to have more honest conversations about boundaries between work and downtime.

Talking about gender equality in the workplace

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to raise awareness and to have conversations with everyone.

Companies run informal IWD sessions by inviting all employees to come along to talk about the women in their industry. There are free resources for companies to use for brainstorming and raising awareness of gender bias such as these from the Lean-In Organisation.

Last year City-based firms Marsh, Lockton and Clyde and Co teamed up with Motherworks – a creative initiative celebrating the everyday achievements of working mums in a wide range of industries. They photographed some of the above companies’ key personnel with their children and displayed the resulting images to celebrate IWD.

Gender equality is a sustained effort

Of course, the topic of gender equality is not for tackling one day alone. It needs revisiting time and time again. We are emerging from lockdown with greater knowledge about the winners and losers of the gender divide. Therefore we must focus our attention if we are going to keep the forward momentum going.  Encouraging a culture of open discussion alongside changes to working practices will help to tackle the challenge facing employers everywhere.

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