If HR professionals don’t stand up for gender equality at work, who will?

If HR professionals don’t stand up for gender equality at work, who will?

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HR plays a pivotal and fundamental role in supporting employees in business, but what ways can HR professionals support a better gender balance in the office?

A 2015 report by the CIPD found that the proportion of female employees decreases with seniority in two-thirds of organisations, with only three in ten taking action to improve gender diversity on the board.

With policies such as the UK’s Equal Pay Act coming into effect over 45 years ago, a policy designed to ensure equality in the workplace and prevent discrimination, women are still facing gender issues in offices throughout the country.

In 2011, it was announced that women should hold a third of boardroom positions by 2020 – a target purely for FTSE 100 firms.

With less than 10 per cent of executive director’s roles at the UK’s top 100 largest companies held by women, the number of female directors at FTSE 100 organisations has risen to 26 per cent – up from 15 per cent in 2012. Just short of the 27 per cent required to meet the 33 per cent target in 2020.

While this target, set by Lord Mervyn Davies, was a guide for some of the UK’s top businesses what can both they, and smaller businesses, do to achieve a better gender balance in their workplace? 

With a study finding that companies who have at least one female executive performing better than those with male-only executives – better gender diversity in the workplace is not only fair but improves the bottom-line too.

HR plays a pivotal and fundamental role in supporting employees in business, but what ways can HR professionals support a better gender balance in the office?

Tick-box diversity

In 2012, it was highlighted that 71 per cent of women highlighted rigid career options and 79 per cent inflexible working practices as a barrier to career development, many HR departments still exercise a ‘tick-box’ regime when it comes to diversity – labelling it another HR process to be conformed with.

To support equality, workplaces need to inspire and champion changes to workplaces so that no barriers remain in place for a woman’s professional development.

If workplaces are to support women effectively, then they need to understand that there is no one size fits all approach to personal development and retention.

While organisations which offer policies, that appeal to women (such as childcare, maternity benefits, etc.) are essential, HR’s need to ensure that there is a fundamental desire among the company to create an equal and diverse organisation.

Therefore, businesses need to give thought to how they will create a gender-neutral working environment, and what their employees value most.

Essentially, HR professionals need to truly understand what will enable employees to work to the best of their ability and how the HR department can support both their professional and personal life – in terms of creating a work-life balance which supports the needs of the employee at home, as well as in the office.

Mind the gap

Gender pay gap reporting has just come into effect for companies who employ more than 250 members of staff – a policy which aims to help with gender equality and minimise the pay gap between men and women.

However, the gender pay gap is often cited as a myth by many due to the fact that some women take career breaks to care for their children.

Yet if women were effectively supported by their employers and returned to the role they left behind when they return to work, then such a gap in both pay and equality could be minimised. For women in the UK with no children, the gap is seven per cent but jumps to 21 per cent if women have at least one child.

Before the UK’s Shared Parental Leave policy was introduced in 2015, women were left with no choice but to take the majority of maternity leave themselves. With childcare costs rising, women often left positions as it made better financial sense, therefore, pushing them further down the line when it comes to reaching top positions.

HR plays a vital role in removing the barriers that prevent women from progressing (84 per cent of employers, in a CIPD survey, said that it was in their interests to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave).

Therefore, implementing policies which support parents’ choices should be a priority for organisations to improve gender equality in their place of work.

With women still cited as the primary caregivers – Share Parental Leave take-up has been slow – work-life management should be managed with a degree of flexibility. For example, the focus should be less on time spent at work, and more toward the bottom line.

If tasks are being completed to a high standard and targets are met – do the hours put in truly matter? It’s more than likely that if you implement flexibility into the workplace, that women will feel more fulfilled and able to achieve both their professional and personal aspirations – leading to more contentment at work.


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