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How do we create fairer workplaces?


In 1968 a strike by 187 female workers at the Ford car factory in Dagenham was instrumental in the passing of the 1970 Equal Pay Act. The machinists walked out for three weeks in protest against their male colleagues earning 15 per cent more than them.

A few years later the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made it illegal to discriminate against women in work, education and training. It also allowed women to apply for a credit card or loan in their own name. The Equal Pay (Amendment) Act 1983 allowed women to be paid the same as men for work of equal value, and in 2010 The Equality Act replaced a number of different anti-discrimination laws.

So how far have we actually come since the 1968 strike? Not far enough, which is why pressure mounted last year to address the gender pay gap further and the government ordered all UK companies with 250 or more employees to publish their gender pay gap data. According to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, 1,557 firms missed the deadline.

The data from companies that did meet the deadline suggests more than three-quarters of UK companies pay men on average more than women.

As of June 2018, the gender pay gap in the UK for both full and part-time employees stands at 18.4%. Furthermore, last week it was revealed that Britain's highest-paid bank boss earns more than all the women on the boards of the four largest lenders combined. Figures obtained by the Mail on Sunday showed the women board members at RBS, Lloyds, HSBC and Barclays were paid a total of £3.7 million in 2018. John Flint, the boss of HSBC, earned £4.6 million. So why is this still happening?

There are a multitude of factors at play when it comes to the gender pay gap. The Fawcett Society cites a divided labour market as one reason, as women are still likely to work in lower-paid and lower-skilled jobs. In skilled trade occupations, the gap is at 20.3% compared to 8.3% in sales and customer service occupations. Women are also more likely to have to adopt caregiving roles, such as looking after children and the elderly. As a result, more women work part-time in jobs that are typically lower paid with fewer opportunities for progression.

Research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that the gender pay gap rises after the birth of a first child. Although women's employment rates do start to rise again once the first child is around school age, they still remain below male pay rates. Men also sit in the majority of senior roles, which are higher paid. In 2018, only seven CEOs in the FTSE 100 were women. According to a 2017 report by the World Economic Forum, if we don’t make more positive strides, it could still take another 100 years before the global equality gap between men and women disappears entirely.

Organisations still have a long way to go, and just because we have made some positive steps, that doesn’t mean we should stop. We should all be asking what more we can do, both male and females. One thing we can do is understand the pay structure of the firm we work for. If you are doing work of equal value and don’t feel you are being paid the same, you have the right to challenge. Having fairer, more equal and balanced workplaces is beneficial for everyone. Businesses and organisations that have balanced workforces and boards see increases in every measurement, including bottom line and diversifying in markets. 

So what can you do to create a truly diverse workforce?

There is no one-size fits all answer and although a training day or workshop is a great start for creating awareness - whether that be unconscious bias training or (see news for more information on this) helping managers understand what they can do to encourage more females to go for promotions - there needs to be a whole organisational approach and strategy for real change to happen.

Awareness of the unconscious biases that women face in the workplace is helpful. Look at language, behaviours, informal and formal processes. Review the way jobs are advertised and review your website. All these things will possibly have unintentional signs that are more biased toward men and in some cases white middle-class males. When we talk about inclusivity and fair working for all women, we need to consider ethnic groups too. Find further reading on this here.

One of Laughology’s learning partners, Savills, have adopted a multifaceted approach. The property world is notorious for being male dominated and Savills recognise this and that there is no overnight fix. We worked with Savills for the last 18 months to help start to make cultural change. We worked closely with the board, helping them recognise and talk more openly about what they can do to shift the balance. A number of approaches have been taken:

Short sharp and enjoyable awareness sessions in a format that suits the organisation.

  • We ran a series of awareness sessions at different times and in different formats. Some were lunchtime 45 minute to one-hour sessions, and some were after-work sessions.
  • The lunchtime sessions were also shared live on their e-learning platform and questions were encouraged from those platforms, so the audience felt engaged.
  • A couple of sessions were recorded, and the content was used to create three learning shorts. These 3-4-minute-long videos had questions and exercises interspersed throughout to create a learning format.

Engaging with the board early and getting a sponsor who would move the ideas forward.

  • A short presentation to the board looked at facts and figures around diversity that impact growth
  • We explored similar organisations that promote diverse working and detailed the benefits
  • We developed simple, quick fixes

Delivering a programme for HR teams, learning partners and some managers who were influencers in the business. The programme included:

  • Unconscious bias awareness and recognising behaviours and ways of working that create barriers to women progressing
  • Growth mindset management principles
  • Train the trainer programme
  • Content development, including training material
  • Creating an intervention plan for various groups
  • Survey/focus groups

Creating and delivering a company-wide survey on diversity and inclusion

  • Announcing the survey with backing from the board
  • Creating a baseline with the survey and sharing outputs with the group
  • Creating a plan to share with the board and group with reference to outputs from the survey
  • Creating a pulse survey to use throughout the year and after interventions
  • Leaving an opportunity to revisit the survey and share any shifts

As well as the above, companies can also develop:

  • Mentoring for women who show potential to lead, as well as mentoring for women who want to return to work
  • Reviewing processes and ways of working that can create exclusion. For example, when is networking and meeting clients done?
  • Reviewing where and how you recruit.
  • Taking a strategic approach to promote women into leadership roles and support them to get there through leadership programmes
  • Promote CV writing classes and promotion opportunities. Encourage women to go for promotions they wouldn’t normally go for, purely for experience.
  • Encourage men in the organisation to champion change.
  • Create workplaces that are equal in pay and paternity leave. Provide opportunities for parents returning to work to be flexible while going for promotions.
  • Consider job-sharing, even at higher levels. There are usually advantages to this – two heads are better than one.
  • Create opportunities for sideways moves to encourage women to stretch themselves and get wider experiences.
  • Promote awareness of menopause and how to positively manage this in the workplace. There is a growing population of older women working and losing these experienced women can be a huge loss to businesses.
  • Promote a positive maternity and back to work experience for women.

These are just some practices organisations should adopt to create a fairer and more level playing field for women and to get more women in leadership and board roles. We need to recognise that something needs to be done to help women who do lag behind in terms of promotions and being in leadership, step up. Men do unfortunately still have the advantage, and this is part of a long term cultural shift. The only way we can start to do this is by creating those advantages for women as well. This is not to say we want women only boards, but where men have greater opportunities, we have to close this gap by creating ways for women and men to be more equal.

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