Today, 8 March 2023, is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity, looking at the difference between equality and equity as we strive towards a gender equal world. With that in mind we have taken a look at how women’s rights have developed over recent years and where we might be headed.
Equal Pay Act 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Equality Act 2010
The Equal Pay Act 1970 was introduced to combat employers openly paying men and women different rates of pay. The Equal Pay Act referred specifically to women being given equal treatment with men in the workplace. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was also introduced at the same time as the first legislation to render unlawful certain kinds of sex discrimination, working towards promoting equality between men and women generally. Both of these Acts came into force in 1975.
In 2010, the Equality Act repealed both Acts, but sought to keep the same “equality of terms” provisions as the Equal Pay Act and protection of women (in addition to the other protected characteristics) from the same range of discriminatory treatment as in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Equal pay is intended to ensure the same rights for all genders in relation to basic pay, pay progression, sick pay, hours of work, bonuses, etc.
In 2003 the right to request flexible working first came into force and applied to requests made in order to care for children under 6 or disabled children under 18. This was extended in 2006 to requests made in order to care for certain adults, and then once again in 2009 to cover all children up to 16.
In 2014 the Flexible Working Regulations further extended the right so that any employee with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment could make a request for flexible working for any reason. There is a specific procedure set out in the Regulations that employers have to abide by. Whilst the right is available to all, it is considered most beneficial to working mothers who statistically are responsible for doing the lion’s share of unpaid childcare.
Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014
Shared Parental Leave was introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 to give employees who are parents a more flexible way to take leave to care for their child (whether birth or adoption). It acknowledges that more parents consider splitting childcare leave, particularly where the mother may be the breadwinner of the family, or for same sex couples who want to split parental leave.
Sadly, there has been a low uptake of shared parental leave by men since its introduction. This may be due to the fact that some companies only enhance maternity pay and not shared parental leave pay, or it may be that there is still a pay discrepancy between men and women and that in a typical family unit, the man tends to be the highest wage earner. This means that the man taking shared parental leave would have a bigger impact on family earnings than the woman taking maternity leave.
However, a study by Indeed showed that the number of vacancies advertising an enhanced parental leave package has risen 1,316% since 2017. Boots, Sainsburys and DFS are leading the field in terms of their enhanced shared parental leave packages, so maybe we are starting to see a move in the right direction on this point.
Gender pay gap
Mandatory gender pay gap reporting for many large private sector employers was introduced on 31 March 2017. In 2022 the gap between men and women’s average pay was 8.3%. The Gender Pay Gap Regulations set out the various data that is required to be published in relation to pay gap reporting, however the guidance that sits alongside it encourages employers to go beyond their minimum requirements and implement an “action plan” that aims to reduce the gender pay gap in the workplace.
Post-COVID flexible working
The gender pay gap figures over the last couple of years are likely to be skewed following the unprecedented furlough scheme. During the pandemic, it appears as though the greater burden of childcare fell on women in many sectors. This may have widened the gender pay gap and slowed women’s progression in the workplace as a result.
However, the positives that have resulted from the pandemic can’t be ignored. Working from home is now the norm in a number of professions, and many workers (women and men alike) work flexibly with their hours and days. For example, many parents at Gateley may be absent during school pick up and drop off times and this is the norm and is worked around by the team, as opposed to having someone (typically a female) submit a formal flexible working request to accommodate their children.
The Department for Work and Pensions recently called on employers to strengthen their support of the careers of women who suffer from serious menopause symptoms. Acas has its own guidance on how employers can support women who may be dealing with symptoms. In December 2022 it was announced that 16 organisations across England will receive a share of £1.97m from the Government to support women experiencing reproductive health issues in the workplace.
Looking forward – new flexible working arrangements
On 5 December 2022 the Government published their response to the consultation on flexible working, which states they are going to legislate to amend the flexible working current legislation. One amendment will be to make flexible working a “day one right”, allow two requests in a 12-month period and introduce a new requirement to consult with an employee on alternatives if a request is to be rejected.
What can employers do to help close the gender pay gap and move towards embracing equity?
Employers should ensure they operate an inclusive workspace with opportunities for all genders.
As an employer, you should consider:
- making sure you have policies in place such as equal opportunities and dignity at work
- that there is not a “one size fits all” solution and that you should be flexible in your approach to accommodating women and their progression
- making sure opportunities are available for all individuals
- encouraging the support of International Women’s Day and other initiatives to educate businesses.
Please do get in touch to let us know what your business is doing to mark International Women’s Day 2023 and any steps it might be taking to #EmbraceEquity.