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Changing the conversation on workplace equality

19 Mar 2019 By Kari Johannsen

Kari Johannsen says gender equality at work will only improve when social biases are challenged

We have all heard it before: fairness in the workplace has an impact on performance. No matter if it’s gender, race or orientation, an employees’ perception of whether an organisations’ practices can be considered fair influences their behaviour and discretionary effort. However, for an organisation to truly embed fairness and equality into the workplace, it is essential that they push past surface level discussions and explore the questions, data, and factors that lurk behind perceived workplace inequality.

Women are not any different from men

Our data has revealed that in terms of key drivers of engagement and top priorities when choosing a new job, there is no difference between men and women. Everyone is mainly driven by an opportunity to develop professionally, the ability to fulfil their career aspiration, and the feeling of equal contribution towards a common goal. Moreover, the two top priorities for both men and women when choosing a new job are pay and work-life balance. 

The first priority uncovers the current financial situation of employees in the UK. As backed by a recent CIPD study, more than half of the UK workforce is looking for a new job in search of higher pay and benefits. Not only do we see economic inequality between genders, but nationwide salaries have not kept pace with inflation. The second priority raises an interesting perspective of gender equality, this time focusing on men. Due to parenting and family obligations, one can argue that work-life balance is necessary for most women to progress on their career path. Equally, work-life balance is a top priority for men. This raises an important question: do men have the same rights and opportunities as women for flexible working and parental leave? In the UK, over half of younger fathers would take a pay cut to work less and spend more time with their family, however, only 2 per cent of couples use shared parental leave. Is it socially acceptable for men to take extensive time off for family duties, considering both shared parental leave and general flexible working? 

Economic inequality – is there an intention to act?

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) have found that almost 70 per cent of UK employers view closing the gender pay gap as a “high or medium” priority. However, under the current regulations, there is no requirement for companies to publish action plans alongside their pay gap data to proactively link their intentions with actionable solutions. 

Despite the highly discussed gender inequalities in seniority and remuneration, there isn’t a significant dissatisfaction across women in the workplace. According to our employee data, women are only 3 per cent less satisfied with pay than men, with two-thirds believing that people are paid fairly for the work they do. Although the gender pay gap increases with the level of seniority, more women in senior roles (80 per cent) agree that pay is fair, compared to women at lower levels in the organisation. 

Why are women not more unhappy with their pay?

The core of equity theory says that individuals judge the fairness of their treatment based on how others like them are treated. A situation is perceived as equitable when employees who give similar inputs receive similar outcomes. Could it be that workplaces are becoming so complex in structure and responsibilities, that women (and men) are not realising significant differences in remunerations? Do women perceive their efforts and work to be less ‘inputs’ than men in similar positions? Or is it more about the ways in which women consider and value their full remuneration package (including flexible working)? 

If mindsets are not challenged, gender inequality in the workplace will not change. We need to dive deeper into the gender issue, where the needs of both men and women are considered and social biases are broken down. Let’s develop a culture that questions the status quo, breeds fairness, and propels good intention into influential results.

Kari Johannsen is list manager and workplace consultant at Great Place to Work UK

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