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Money Money Money

Recently, the gender pay gap has come into sharp focus with more organisations publishing their pay gap reporting. Why is this an issue?  Minister for Women and Equalities Justine Greening said:

“We have more women in work, more women-led businesses than ever before and the highest proportion of women on the boards of our biggest companies. This has helped us to narrow the gender pay gap to a record 18.1 per cent – but we want to eliminate it completely.

Helping women to reach their full potential isn’t only the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense and is good for British business. I am proud that the UK is championing gender equality and now those employers that are leading the way will clearly stand out with these requirements.

The benefits of helping women to unlock their talents are huge – eliminating work-related gender gaps could add £150 billion to our annual GDP by 2025. That is an opportunity that neither Government nor businesses can afford to ignore.

Gender imbalance is about more than just remuneration.

This is a Man’s World

Hang on though, things continue to change rapidly in the modern workplace reflecting changes across society.  Two generations ago women were not entitled to vote or open a bank account.  A woman’s role was to run the home and look after the children.  Even socially minded companies such as Cadbury’s who provided education and sports facilities to improve the lives of their workers didn’t allow women to continue working once married.  For women who needed to work to survive the most likely ‘career’ was a life of servitude.

It is no longer the norm to be married with 2.4 children; parental leave following birth and adoption can be shared, and traditional gender-based stereotypes that boys want to be train drivers and girls want to be nurses have disappeared. Or have they?

Comfortably Numb

Unconscious gender bias still exists and is reinforced at an early age; ‘pink for a girl, blue for a boy’. Schools still differentiate between ‘boys’ sports and ‘girls’ sports and there are still fewer female students choosing STEM (science technology engineering mathematics) subjects.  It is also the case that women continue to be the primary caregivers during maternity and child-rearing years[1].  When presenteeism is so highly valued in most organisations women are simply less visible.  So, is it a surprise that unconscious gender bias can be so pervasive and ingrained in culture within the working environment? Such cultures, coupled with a lack of female role models and mentors in senior positions, exacerbate gender imbalance in the workplace.

Even in some of the most demanding careers, positive and inclusive cultures are being actively fostered, shattering traditional perceptions.  Within the Armed Forces, women and men have served shoulder to shoulder on the front line for many years.  Now all are welcome to enter ground combat roles that were previously off-limits to women.

I Want to Break Free

Flexible working could accommodate colleagues working different hours; working remotely; and job-sharing. Remote working has been made possible through advances in technology such as provision of virtual offices and telephony; collaborative working tools and project management software; and the speed of connection and portability of hardware. In a flexible working environment, the focus is on productivity rather than presenteeism.  Great news for men as well as women, so how will this help gender imbalance?

It is predominantly women who take career breaks to look after children or care for relatives. A survey for The Guardian found that both men and women thought that more flexible working opportunities would encourage women to continue their careers after starting a family (67%) and that even though men and women have equal right to take time off (as unpaid parental leave) if their child or a dependent is ill, 71% of women respondents said that they tend to be the person who takes time off work to look after their child/children when they are sick, compared to only 32% of men [2]

These figures suggest that although it would be beneficial to men and women seeking a better work-life balance, there would be a much greater impact on women’s ability to return to work and advance their careers.  This, coupled with the ability for more men to vary their traditional hours without detriment (real or imagined) to their careers, will redress some of the gender imbalance in the workplace.

What a wonderful world

This all sounds great in theory, but how do organisations make these changes? 

  • A focus on awareness of these issues at all levels is key and must be driven by strong leadership.
  • Empowering women through mentoring and visible role models.
  • Adaptation of leaders and managers to measure productivity rather than presenteeism.  

Moreover, the potential boost available to businesses from widening their talent pool and the benefits of the likely improved staff retention should set the tone for long-lasting positive change.

Why not read our Blog post on Unmissable Tips for Better Work-Life Balance?

[1] European Commission (2012) Women in economic decision-making in the EU: Progress report 2012. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

[2] The Guardian Gender Equality Survey (2016) Part 3 – Impact of children on gender imbalance in the workplace.

Contact us today to see how SmartPA can support your business through flexible working.

SmartPA Partner, Zoe Thomson

Zoe is a capable and dynamic support specialist committed to delivering SmartPA’s world class services to businesses. She has proven leadership and stakeholder management experience, derived from a variety of fast-paced roles in the military, public sector and corporate environments. The knowledge she gained in areas such as protective security, aviation security, counter intelligence, risk management and training will ensure increased productivity and efficiency within any business.