What are the main issues for women in the workplace?

Here, Emma O'Leary, employment law consultant for the ELAS Group, takes a look for International Women's Day and how women are impacted in today's offices.

It’s been a year of headlines for women’s rights with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements shining the spotlight on inequality and abuse around the world. Oscar winner Frances McDormand had every female nominee stand and taught us a new phrase – inclusion rider – during her acceptance speech to press for greater equality in the film industry, which had been rocked by numerous scandals recently.

With the focus firmly on equality, what are the main issues for women in the workplace? Where has progress been made and what still needs to be done? Emma O’Leary, employment law consultant for the ELAS Group, takes a look for International Women’s Day:

The Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 has been a leap forward when it comes to addressing pay inequality amongst men and women. Many organisations have already published theirs, with interesting if unsurprising results and the 4th April deadline is fast approaching for all companies with 250 or more employees to do the same.

It remains to be seen whether this will successfully eradicate the gender pay gap but it’s certainly a positive move and has shined a much needed spotlight on an issue that continues to exist.

If an employee believes that they are not paid equally to their male counterparts for doing the same or similar work, then they should raise this with their employer…and not be afraid to do so. You cannot be treated less favourably for raising this issue and it might turn out to just be an oversight or error that is easily remedied.

If not, then you should raise it through the company’s grievance procedures. If this is still ignored or not remedied, then the employee can initiate employment tribunal proceedings, whilst still in employment, for an equal pay/sex discrimination claim.

Equality and discrimination policies are among the most important you can have in any company. Everyone has at least five of the protected characteristics and employers have a duty to ensure that all employees are treated equally and everyone has the same opportunities to progress within the company.

Unfortunately, we have seen that sexual harassment still appears to be prevalent in the modern workplace. As an employer, sexual harassment can be difficult to deal with particularly when the perpetrator is a senior member of staff, or worse, the owner/CEO of the business.

However to turn a blind eye is to be complicit in the behaviour, not to mention falling foul of employment law. Don’t forget an employer is vicariously liable for the actions of its employees, so it will be your responsibility as an employer if one of your employees is found to have committed unlawful sexual harassment and you did not take all reasonable steps to prevent it

With so much focus on gender equality, it’s absurd that women still have to fight for the right to dress as they wish against the male view of how they believe a woman should dress. Yet that’s exactly what has been happening with recent high profile cases resulting in a parliamentary debate and inquiry.

While there is nothing wrong with requiring employees to be smartly dressed, there cannot be separate rules for men and women and sexist attitudes requiring female staff members to ‘dress like women’ belong firmly in the past.

There are three steps that every company should consider when looking at a dress code policy: what are you trying to achieve, is what you are doing proportionate to what you are trying to achieve and have you balanced dress code with health and safety considerations.

The Supreme Court abolished tribunal fees earlier this year, finding them to be indirectly discriminatory as a higher proportion of women would bring discrimination cases and the fees may have been preventing them from doing so. This means it’s even more important for companies to ensure they are providing an equal, inclusive workplace so as to avoid discrimination claims being filed against them.

At the end of the day, this can only be seen as a positive step for women and equality.

Top tips to ensure an equal and harmonious work place:

  1. Know your obligations
  2. Have robust equality and diversity policies with clear guidance and boundaries
  3. Encourage communication from employees to ensure they are not afraid to raise genuine concerns
  4. Train staff in equality and diverse, particular managers in how to handle complaints
  5. Transparency in pay – use pay scales to ensure equality

Further reading on women in the workplace

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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