Employers not doing enough to tackle gender inequality at work, say MPs

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Employers are failing to take the necessary steps to tackle gender inequality within and beyond the workplace, MPs said today (8 March), on International Women’s Day.

Experts called on employers to tackle sexual harassment, improve diversity at senior levels of organisations, and provide more high-quality and flexible working opportunities to recruit and retain women in the workplace, after a survey of parliamentarians expressed disquiet at the lack of progress made on the issue to date.

Maria Miller MP, chair of the Women’s and Equalities Committee, today called on the business community and beyond to press for equality for women of all backgrounds and from all communities.

Noting the significance of 2018 as the centenary of the first women gaining the vote, she said: “We have put pressure on the government to take concrete steps for change on a wide range of issues.”

These include improving women’s political representation, new guidance for schools on tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence, stronger protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers, guidance on dress codes in the workplace, and what Miller said was “tougher action to tackle the gender pay gap.”

“On this International Women’s Day, we would urge everyone to join us in pressing for equality for women from all backgrounds and communities,” she added.

A ComRes survey commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust charity for International Women’s Day showed that more than half (58 per cent) of 150 surveyed MPs said employers were failing to do enough to tackle gender inequality in the workplace.

Seven in 10 female MPs did not think they would see gender equality in their lifetime.

Dr Carole Easton, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said that, given the slow rate of progress – and the pressures of unequal pay, gender stereotypes and sexual harassment on young women today – they “will retire before equality in the workplace becomes a reality.”

However, there are solutions that employers can implement now. “We need to press for progress to improve young women’s prospects and give them hope for the future,” Easton said.

“This means giving them the right skills and support to find jobs, ensuring decent and flexible jobs are available, making childcare accessible and affordable and changing the law to ensure under-25s are entitled to the same national living wage as everyone else. This would benefit businesses and the economy too.”

A Populus Data Solutions survey of more than 4,000 young people carried out by the Trust found just a third of young people aged 18-30 thought there would be an equal number of male and female business leaders (33 per cent) or MPs (34 per cent) by the time they are middle-aged.

However, nearly half believed men and women will take an equal role in caring for children, reflecting the heightened profile of schemes such as shared parental leave introduced in recent years.

In a speech made to delegates of the 30% Club in London on 6 March, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said 2018 could be a “critical” year for women in the workplace, and urged organisations to constantly question their daily practices, and take decisive action on gender equality.

“The number of women in work has never been higher, and we have equal numbers of men and women starting out as apprentices and joining graduate schemes. But we’re not there yet,” she said.

“Company practices need to be more inclusive, sexual harassment needs to be stamped out, slow progress on career progression for women must be addressed. And the gender pay gap needs to be closed by moving to a world where there are just jobs – not men’s jobs and women’s jobs.”

The 2018 call to a collective #PressForProgress on gender parity, inclusion, and advancing women from a wide range of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds is timely. A new report from diversity and inclusion network INvolve and the Centre for Economic and Business Research yesterday revealed there are more CEOs named David (nine) and Steve (four) combined in the FTSE 100, than women (seven) and ethnic minority (five) CEOs combined.

Commenting on the findings, founder and CEO of INvolve Suki Sandhu highlighted the importance of empowering ethnic minorities and women in business.

“Role modelling is fundamental to ensuring equality of opportunity and more inclusive workplace cultures. Those who have achieved personal success have a responsibility to inspire the next generation of ethnic minority and female leaders,” she said.

“As we continue to celebrate diversity in the workplace […] we hope to inspire the leaders of tomorrow.”

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