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International Women’s Day and Gender Inequality

March 8th is International Women’s Day. The theme this year is: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. Originally instigated in the 1900s, the celebration has grown and now thousands of festivities are held across the world to celebrate the achievements of women and to inspire others.

Looking back over the years, it is clear that equality between men and women has progressed substantially in the UK. Since women received the vote in 1918, we have seen the introduction of female MPs, diplomats and professors. In 2007, the gender equality duty marked the introduction of a legal requirement for all UK public authorities to work to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination and promote equal opportunities between men and women. Three years later, the Equality Act further consolidated discrimination legislation. We can celebrate our progress, but should understand that there is still a long way to go.

I do feel great concern that so many young women, far from taking advantage of all the hard-won rights to study and develop a worthwhile career, just say that they want to be “celebs” (X-Factor has a lot to answer for). Many young women opt for they see as easy academic choices (being a nanny or hairdressing). There’s nothing wrong with doing this type of work if it’s what you really, really want to do. It’s honest and for many it’s a vocational choice. But unless you run your own business, it’s low-paid, repetitive, fairly low-content work. Such work leads to limited choices life and a far greater risk of poverty.

Women should be trying to achieve greater economic independence. According to research carried out by the European Commission, women earn an average of 17.5% less than men across the European Union, and only one in ten board members of the EU’s largest public limited companies are female. Between 2001 and 2011, there was only a 4% increase in the number of female board members. Part of this relates to life style choices. Whether you like it or not, you simply cannot hold down a really senior role on 20 hours a week. Compromises have to be made. If a woman has children, for a period of time at least, she will have to decide whether to reduce time spent on her career or whether to let someone else take on the main child rearing role and focus on work. One thing in which we are all absolutely unequivocally equal is the amount of time available each day to us. However well-organised we are, we just can’t do everything. Shirley Conran’s “Superwoman” was a con. Really, I’m amazed that anyone ever believed it. I guess they wanted to ….

It’s disconcerting and worrying that latest information suggests that gender equality at work is going backwards. According to PwC, women in the UK are less likely to be in work and are more likely to experience lower job security and greater pay inequality than their counterparts in other developed countries.

Treating all employees fairly and trying to ensure a level playing field as much as possible makes good business sense. Different people bring different perspectives to the table which can help develop new ideas and ways of thinking. In today’s economic climate, having a synergy of different outlooks can be extremely beneficial and can set you apart from competitors.

Steps you can take to close the equality gap.

  • Recruitment policies should be transparent and inclusive so that there are continual opportunities for people from all walks of life to be brought into the recruitment process.
  • Setting diversity targets so that your management positions are filled from across the spectrum of ages and types.
  • Consider training your management staff and educating them on unlawful discrimination and harassment.
  • Set a good example and ensure that others in your workplace practice the principles of equality standards in the workplace.

If you’d like help examining your current policies and practices or would like some equality training, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

If you want help sorting out workplace employment issues, give us a call.

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