Government launches initiatives to ‘level up’ opportunities for working women

Announcement includes pilot project to improve pay transparency and close salary gaps, as well as returners programme for STEM careers

The government has announced a pilot project to increase pay transparency and close salary gaps for female job applicants as part of its ‘Levelling Up’ strategy.

The scheme, launched by the minister for women, Baroness Stedman-Scott, on International Women’s Day (8 March), will require a number of employers to list salary information on their job adverts.

Participating employers will also refrain from asking applicants about their salary history during the application process.

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, welcomed the scheme, adding that asking applicants to disclose salary history contributes to the gender pay gap and keeps women on lower salaries. “Past pay discrimination follows women and other groups throughout their career” she said.

Prohibiting the practice of asking about salary history was a “simple, evidence-led way to improve pay equality for women, people of colour and disabled people,” she said. “We hope more employers will answer this call, and sign Fawcett’s pledge, as part of other actions to tackle their pay gaps.”

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, agreed that including salary information and avoiding asking questions about salary history help to “set pay expectations among job seekers”, reducing the likelihood of unfair pay gaps.

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“If people know that they’re going to be rewarded openly and fairly, the organisation will be better placed to attract and retain a wider range of candidates" he said.

Alongside this, the government also plans to introduce a new returners programme in an effort to reintroduce women into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) roles following career breaks, after research revealed that women who leave roles in order to take up personal responsibilities often face challenges on their return to employment.

The government’s 25 existing returner programmes across the private and public sectors will inform how the STEM pilot programme will run. The scheme will initially run for two years, after which the results of the programme will inform next steps for businesses.

Scott said the pilot will “build on positive evidence of the role information can play when it comes to empowering women in the workplace”, adding that women should be at the forefront of the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda.

The returner initiative will also “keep talented minds in STEM and improve the representation of women and marginalised communities in those incredibly important roles”, she added. 

The launch comes as separate research revealed two-thirds (63 per cent) of women believe their organisation is behind on equal pay and opportunity.

The study of 1,004 working women by Thoughtworks, carried out in November last year, found that 89 per cent of organisations believed there were business benefits from championing gender issues.

Yet, the poll also revealed a third (32 per cent) of women think their organisation does not have a plan or does not know where to start on career development. A similar proportion (30 per cent) thought the same for equal pay, and a quarter (26 per cent) thought their employer did not know where to start on representation.

Additionally, just two in five (39 per cent) of those surveyed could point out gender inequality initiatives implemented by their organisation, while two-thirds (63 per cent) said their organisation was behind on the issue of working parents.

Almost a third (29 per cent) of women said their company did not have a plan to resolve the issue of support for working parents, and only 18 per cent said their employer had an official ‘return to work’ programme.