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Are we getting closer to gender equality?

2 Jul 2018 By Helen Jenkins

With the recent focus on pay gap reporting and the #MeToo campaign, Helen Jenkins reflects on the progress being made, both in Britain and globally

Ipsos Mori published a report earlier this year to mark International Women's Day, based on the misperceptions of equality around the world, having sought input from more than 19,000 people across 27 countries. Below are some of its main findings relevant to the employment sphere.

Sexual harassment

The report highlights that globally the number one gender issue is perceived as sexual harassment. Despite this, 50 per cent of people believe that sexual harassment reports are ignored. This figure is slightly lower in the UK, at 43 per cent.

The research also illustrates that despite sexual harassment being the number one gender concern, people underestimate its prevalence. In Britain, 68 per cent of female respondents said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment. However, the British respondents (both male and female) believe that only 55 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment. While this is still a large number, it is significantly underestimating the reality for women in Britain. It is well known that a necessary step in creating change is an acknowledgement of the scale of the problem, and there is clearly still work to be done in this respect. 

Equal pay

The report reveals that equal pay is the number one gender issue in Britain (sexual harassment came second). It also found that people in Britain significantly overestimate the pace of change, thinking equal pay would be achieved by 2035. The reality is that, based on the current pace of change, it will take 82 years longer than this (until 2117).

Gender pay

The first round of gender pay reporting has shown an average gender pay gap of 18 per cent. Many narratives cite the lack of women in senior roles as part of the reason for this. The report found that in Britain people believe that 12 per cent of CEOs in the largest 500 companies around the world are women – it's actually only 3 per cent. There is therefore, again, a perception issue. Gender pay gaps are distinct from equal pay issues; however, we may see people trying to use gender pay statistics to bolster equal pay claims.

What can we expect next for gender equality following gender pay gap reporting? Probably not a lot in terms of the next round of reporting. As most people were trying to get their heads round what the reporting rules required, not much was done in terms of making changes. No sooner were reports due than the next snapshot date passed. It is likely to only be the reports from the April 2019 snapshot dates (due to be published in April 2020) that could show any significant change.

One way some large employers are seeking to address their pay gaps is by introducing returner programmes. While these are still in their infancy, they do appear to be successful. They are aimed at supporting people who have had breaks of two or more years to get back into work (such as women who have had multiple children and have taken a career break). As this group will predominately be women, such programmes could be instrumental, if more widely implemented, in reducing the gender pay gap.

The report suggests that 45 per cent of people globally consider that their countries have gone far enough when it comes to giving women equal rights. This complacency and/or resistance to further change may be one of the biggest challenges we face in a further breakthrough in gender equality. The UK's gender pay gap reporting shows we still have a long way to go.

Helen Jenkins is an associate at Dentons

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