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The Rise of Equal Rights for Women in the Workplace

Published: Monday 9th March 2020

International Woman’s Day took place on the 9th March this year, so it’s a good time to look at the rise of equal rights in the workplace and what’s been done in terms of gender discrimination when it comes to pay and breaking through the glass ceiling. The fact remains that, in most of the world, women’s wages represent between 70% and 90% of men’s, but things are changing, certainly in the UK. 

Government action on equal rights in the workplace 

Gender equality, equal rights concept as woman hands holding a white paper sheet with male and female symbol over a crowded city street background.

By creating the post of Minister for Women and Equalities in 2010, the UK government demonstrated that it was committed to equal rights in the workplace, but how much of that is translating into real change when it comes to pay and opportunities in the boardroom?  

Legislation now means that companies over a certain size are legally obliged to report on gender statistics, along with a clear action plan of what is being done to reduce the gender pay gap. Yet, despite those measures, figures published in April 2019 saw the gender pay gap wide in the favour of men. 

A person with a gender pay equal banner at a political protest march

However, there have been changes in some firms. Accenture, Barclays, Credit Suisse UK and KPMG have all set gender targets with defined milestones to measure progress made. And more companies are using new recruitment processes in order to eliminate gender bias for recruitment advertising. Unilever and Vodafone are two firms using blind evaluation procedures to recruit more diversely. 

Sexual harassment still an issue 

Sexual harassment continues to be a problem in the workplace with a poll finding that 52% of women saying that they experienced inappropriate behaviour and four in five saying they did not report it, either because they felt they wouldn’t be taken seriously or it would affect their relationships at work 

Gossip colleagues in front of their office,beautiful businesswoman portrait and gossip, harassment in the workplace concept

Under The Equality Act, the law is clear when it comes to sexual harassment. To do their part, employers have to make sure that there are strict policies in place, everyone is aware of the rules and, importantly, they are enforced with strict penalties for discrimination and harassment. 

There is good news with the rise of flexible working and shared parental leave. Board appointments are becoming more diverse too. Previously these tended to be retired CEO’s – typically older white men. The number of all-male boards has fallen across the FTSE350 has fallen from 152 in 2011 to just 5 in 2018. 

Promoting feminism in the workplace 

Business success - Celebrating businesswoman

Change is taking place, but more needs to be done to keep the momentum up. At the current rate, it will take 100 years to close the current gender pay gap. Companies need to make sure female employees are applying for promotions and getting the pay rises they deserve. At KPMGfor instance, when a promotion is advertised, line managers are asked if potential female candidates have applied, and if not, why not? 

Other organisations, such as ActionAid, are actively practising feminism at work. By championing feminist principles in the workplace, companies can proactively drive the equal rights agenda, both in terms of the gender pay gap and in terms of career progression for women. In 2020, action like this is the next logical step when it comes to eliminating sexual discrimination in the workplace. 

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