Gender Equality in Business

With recent high-profile cases highlighting the issue of gender equality in the workplace more than ever before, does Wales fare better or worse than the wider UK, and what support is out there for businesses seeking to make a real difference within their workforce?

Employment figures in Wales show there are over 1.4 million people in employment, 52% of whom are male, while the remaining 48% are female.[1] However when we look behind these headline figures the picture tells a different story, with 42% of employed women in part time employment, and women overall accounting for 73% of those in part time employment in Wales.

According to the Fawcett Society[2], there has been a significant increase in women moving into low paid or insecure employment (826,000 since the financial crisis in 2008).  However, the number of female part-time workers who want to be working full-time has nearly doubled.

There are, of course, some perfectly valid reasons for higher rates of part-time employment amongst women, with many choosing to work less hours, for instance after having children. However, for others this is less a positive choice and more an unwelcome inevitability given the prohibitive cost and limited availability of flexible childcare, which presents a significant barrier to full and meaningful employment.

In the 2017 childcare survey carried out by the Family and Childcare Trust it was revealed that families can be spending up to 45 per cent of their disposable income on average childcare costs. The report also revealed that many parents can’t find the childcare they need.  In Wales only 20% of councils have enough childcare for parents working full time.[3] The gaps are even bigger for parents who do not work typical office hours or for families with disabled children.  Whilst for some this presents little or no incentive to work, others feel pressured to remain in employment, despite the limited financial payback, simply in order to maintain their position on the career ladder.

Lack of flexible working options is also a real barrier, particularly at senior levels, and this could well be a strong contributory factor in the gender imbalance in management or senior roles. According to Forbes, almost four in ten businesses in G7 countries have no women in senior management positions:

“Globally, the proportion of senior business roles held by women stands at 24%, up slightly from 22% in 2015. However, this minor uplift has coincided with an increase in the percentage of firms with no women in senior management, at 33% in 2016 compared to 32% last year.”  [4]

Looking at the UK more specifically, Forbes state that 21% of senior roles in the UK are held by women, which is a decline from 22% in 2015.  The UK also has the highest recorded proportion of businesses with no women in senior management, at 36%.

Of equal concern is the continuing gender pay gap, which remains stubbornly persistent. On average women still earn 20% less than their male colleagues, yet research undertaken by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills[5] shows that, academically, females are outperforming males from GCSE through to higher education and post graduate studies. The research also revealed that a third more women than men progress to study at degree level in the UK.

One important factor influencing this pay differential could be occupational segregation, with women still under represented in a range of high-paying occupations and over-represented in a number of traditionally low-paid sectors. The table below shows the comparison between male and female in occupations. Males dominate the managerial, professional and technical and skilled trades, whilst women take the lead in administration, retail, cleaning and catering.[6]

UK Occupations by Gender – July – September -2017

The most glaringly obvious disparity is within skilled trades, with women only making up 10% of these occupations. A report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills[7] found that less than 10% of British engineers are female, and in computer science, men outnumber women at a ratio of 5 to 1.  They also state that:

“Although there has been an increase in female participation in apprenticeships, there are still big gender divides – for example, for every female apprentice in the construction sector, there are 60 male”.

The issues surrounding occupational segregation are many and complex. On the one hand, women may choose to avoid certain careers because they themselves view them as ‘male only’. Such perceptions are likely to arise as a result of stereotypes formed from an early age of what constitutes ‘women’s work’ and ‘men’s work’ and, when combined with pressure or fear of judgement from friends or family, can prove a powerful force.   However, on the other hand, one might question whether sectors and individual businesses are doing everything they can to promote traditionally male-dominated industries and roles to women (and, of course, vice versa).

Part of the answer may lie in making the compelling case to businesses that gender equality in the workplace yields wider benefits; that, apart from being the right and fair thing to do, adopting a culture of equality and fairness enhances a company’s reputation, making it a more attractive prospect for new talent within the workforce, as well as for the customers it serves. Companies who demonstrate fair practices across their organisation can significantly improve overall employee morale and commitment, which not only changes attitudes within the workforce, but can also be a huge attraction to customers and other stakeholders.

Having a more diverse workforce, with men and women represented at all levels of the business ensures a broad range of perspectives are considered when making key decisions and influencing the development of a balanced organisational culture.  Increased flexibility for both men and women in the workplace could also bring benefits in terms of improvements in quality and productivity.

“It’s not only employees who benefit from flexible working.  Flexible arrangements often benefit the company or organisation, too. They can help to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and enhance employee engagement and loyalty.  It can greatly increase the pool of applicants for vacant roles, while helping to retain the experienced and skilled staff already there.”(Tom Neil, Guidance writer for Acas) [8]

So with clear benefits to businesses, and their workforces, what support is out there for employers who are seeking to improve gender equality in their workplace?

At Better Jobs, Better Futures, our team of Workforce Advisers work with businesses to identify and address key workforce challenges through a range of workforce planning tools and techniques. We work with employers to review and improve workplace strategies and policies aimed at improving workforce diversity, recruitment and retention, employee engagement and talent management. We support businesses for as long as they need us to, and we also work with individuals to equip them to take advantage of the opportunities created.

If you think you might benefit from the support available through the Better Jobs, Better Futures programme, please give the team a call on 01792 284450 or email us here.

From this, we look to make suggestions and then help you through the implementation phase, working with you on a long or short term basis, dependent on your requirements.

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