What the government is planning on gender equality

Eleni Sideris and Rachel Easter round up the key areas of workplace inequality being tackled, and offer tips for employers

Penny Mordaunt, minister for women and equalities, has set out the government’s vision for gender equality in the UK with the publication of Gender equality at every stage: a roadmap for change. It is a holistic review of gender equality from education to retirement, identifying eight key drivers of inequality with many relating to employment. To tackle gender inequality in the workplace the government will focus on low pay in identified sectors and occupations, career trajectory and support for those with caring responsibilities. 

These are the key points:

  • tailored equality initiatives targeting sectors that are strongly associated with one gender, including health, education, retail, financial services, construction and engineering;
  • a consultation on gender pay gap reporting to assess its effectiveness in exposing the causes of pay gaps, and employers’ progress in tackling them;
  • a national campaign to help employers understand how they can support staff to balance work and caring responsibilities;
  • a review of the shared parental leave legislation, following its limited uptake, to include recommendations to modernise the system and support organisations in promoting its use;
  • continued focus on encouraging businesses to offer and promote returner schemes after career breaks;
  • a review of the enforcement of equal pay legislation (with 2020 marking 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was introduced), including considering the circumstances where mandatory equal pay audits could be appropriate and proportionate;
  • a consultation on employment rights for carers, including a new right to carers’ leave;
  • renewed focus on measures to tackle sexual harassment, including a review of the law on third-party harassment, protections for interns and volunteers and whether the three-month time limit for workplace discrimination and harassment claims is sufficient. There will also be a national survey to gather information on harassment in and out of the workplace and Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance on sexual harassment and harassment at work, which will form the basis of a new statutory code of practice;
  • a new annual gender equality monitor bringing together metrics from across the government to monitor important gender equality issues in the UK; and
  • the outcome of the recent consultation on redundancy protection during and after pregnancy and maternity leave.

Advice for employers

With renewed government focus on workplace inequality, HR professionals should assess the effectiveness of their gender pay gap reporting. They might question whether their sector is disproportionately impacted and whether it will be targeted by future legislation. If there are gender pay gaps, firms could ask what can be done to reduce the gap, rather than merely reporting on it. 

Businesses and their HR advisers could consider what policies are in place for carers and those returning to work. For example, is flexible working promoted or supported? On harassment, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, organisations would benefit from reviewing their policies and ensuring they are effective. Are staff members trained on what to look out for and where to go for help?

Now is a good time to review any family-friendly policies. What are the firm’s parental and shared parental leave policies? What is being done to retain women and to encourage male members of staff to take on caregiving responsibilities?

Addressing these questions will assist in your organisation’s monitoring and implementation of future changes in the law and will also ensure that you are better placed to address any allegations of harassment, sexual harassment or sex discrimination.

Eleni Sideris and Rachel Easter are associates with CMS