Are efforts to achieve gender equality too small to match scale of the issue?

Are efforts to achieve gender equality too small to match scale of the issue?

Image: Nastco / iStock

Gender inequality is receiving more media attention than ever before thanks to a series of recent high profile events, and the issue of sexism in the workplace is one that is a hot topic among business leaders.

I was particularly interested when reading the recent coverage given to an experiment carried out by a pair of colleagues in the US, in which Martin R. Schneider – an editor for film review website Front Row Central based in Philadelphia – found evidence of men and women being treated differently in the workplace after he accidentally signed off emails using his female colleague’s signature.

Unfair treatment

Working for a different company at the time, Mr Schneider said that his colleague Nicole Hallberg was subject to criticism from their boss for taking longer than he did on communicating with clients.

Mr Schneider, as Ms Hallberg’s supervisor, thought this was due to his higher level experience, but he later noticed one of his clients acting differently with him.

He reported the client to be “rude, dismissive, ignoring [his] questions”, but when he realised the problem was coming from his incorrect email signature, the treatment he was given soon changed when he reintroduced himself. In fact, Mr Schneider said he noticed an “immediate improvement” from the client who gave him a more positive reception.

ollowing this incident, he decided to switch signatures with his colleague for two weeks, after which he noted a considerable difference in the treatment he received. He found that the reason Ms Hallberg took longer to carry out similar tasks was because she “had to convince clients to respect her”.

While I am lucky enough never to have experienced anything similar in my career, I was disappointed by this news story, and it made me question whether men and women will ever be treated on an even playing field in the workplace.

Bridging the gap

The gender pay gap is another issue that business owners must address, as women continually get paid considerably less than their male colleagues for doing the same job.

Fortunately, things are finally moving in the right direction in the UK, thanks to legislation passed earlier this month which demanded that businesses employing more than 250 people should publish their pay data for the first time.

Following in the footsteps of trailblazers including Iceland and Switzerland, the new legal requirements are a positive move in the quest for gender equality. However, it may be a long while – if ever – until smaller companies are encouraged to follow suit by publishing their gender pay gap data.

With experts calling the new legislation one of the biggest steps in equality for the past four decades, it is clear to see the changes were a long time coming, but I’m keen to see strict sanctions put in place to ensure the employers involved are held to account if they fail to publish key data.

Dress codes

Disparities between male and female dress codes in the workplace is something we have discussed extensively in the past, but it is certainly worth bringing up time and time again in tales of gender inequality.

There have been a number of well-publicised examples of women being asked to dress a certain way for work, including Nicola Thorpe, who was sent home for refusing to wear high heels, and stories of those asked to wear revealing outfits in a bid to attract more male customers.

Labour’s Gill Furniss, MP for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, reported that her daughter was left with a fractured foot after being told to wear heels in a retail job.

She said: “Quite literally adding insult to injury, she was denied any compensation or sick pay as she wasn’t on the payroll for long enough. Needless to say, she did not return to this type of work, but not everyone has that choice.”

While these examples are very extreme, it was positive to see the issue of sexist dress codes being discussed by politicians in the House of Commons last month, which is bringing this important issue further into the spotlight.

The debate in Parliament followed a petition signed by more than 150,000 people launched by receptionist Ms Thorp after she was sent home from work for refusing to wear high heels. The parliamentary petitions and women and equalities committees were moved to investigate sexist work dress codes as a result. They have since called for a review of equality legislation.

Slow progress

Progress is certainly being made when it comes to equality in the workplace, and the introduction of new gender pay gap legislation, along with the reviews to dress code rules, certainly show that attitudes are changing.

However, is the action too little to match up to the extent of the issue? Many women already face potential unfair treatment when it comes to maternity leave and childcare, so to see that many are still affected by sexist policies is incredibly worrying.

That being said, change is coming, and I for one am looking forward to businesses taking action to eradicate the gender pay gap once and for all when it comes to publishing their salary data.


About the author

Jo Sellick is the managing director of recruitment specialist, Sellick Partnership



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