The road to gender equality: Minister for Women and Equalities launches a plan for change

With Women on average being ‘more likely to enter the workforce with higher qualifications than men, but earning less per hour’ Penny Mourdant, Minister for Women and Equalities has published a roadmap of the vital actions the Government will take to address gender inequality.

The 28-page document considers the data and contextual backdrop of inequality experienced by women, setting out the Government’s vision to ‘enable everyone to contribute to the country’s economy and balance caring responsibilities with a rewarding career’ (1). Many of the proposals will particularly impact payroll and HR teams and I’ve italicised those that I will be pressing to be involved in through my work as vice chair of the employment tax committee at ICAEW, a member of the cross government statutory payment forum, through the British Computer Society payroll specialist group and the Reward and Employment Engagement Forum that I set up.

The roadmap lays out their ambitious next steps to begin to address gender inequality, with a set of actions linked to each key driver. In addition to their ongoing work on gender inequality, the Government intends to*:

Limiting attitudes to gender

  • Invest £2 million in developing and extending career-related learning in primary schools to help children keep their options open and challenge stereotypes
  • Publish research and advice to tackle poor body image, and ‘on what works to engage men and boys on gender issues’
  • Deliver a programme of work to tackle stereotyping in media and advertising.

Tending to work in lower paid sectors and occupations, and less likely to progress

  • Enhance the Gender Pay Gap Reporting Online Service to help employers understand what their data means. They’ll also take this opportunity to consider what additional information employers can and should upload to increase transparency about policies and initiatives to support gender equality – e.g. family friendly policies or retention rates of employees returning from parental leave.
  • Launch a national campaign aimed at employers, to help them understand how to promote work and care balance for employees and support progression to advance gender equality
  • Refresh the Women’s Business Council, promoting business-led solutions to maximise women’s economic potential.

Tackling disadvantages of the working age benefits system

  • Improve the support of Universal Credit for women, helping those on the system to progress from low paying jobs
  • Align the Flexible Support Fund guidance more closely with Universal Credit and promote the use of the Fund for eligible claimants, to ensure affordable childcare in not a barrier to women moving into and progressing at work.

Taking more time out of the labour market to care for children

  • Evaluate Shared Parental Leave and Pay schemes to understand how to modernise the existing system and improve access to information on family friendly policies, childcare support, parental leave and other services in one joined-up place
  • Launch a consultation into ways to increase transparency of the parental leave and pay policies offered by organisations, and into how to improve the availability of flexible working in job adverts
  • Pilot flexible working options to target SMEs and industries with high numbers of low paid female workers.

Providing more informal care and unpaid work for others

  • Work with a range of organisations, including charities, the Money and Pensions Service and the NHS, to improve the signposting, clarity and consistency of information carers receive about their rights and entitlements, and to support their understanding of the options available to combine work and care
  • Look at carer’s leave and carry out a consultation on dedicated employment rights for carers.

Barriers returning to or entering the labour market

  • Work with Jobcentre Plus to helping potential returners identify opportunities, support SMEs to offer and promote returner opportunities, and develop and identify best practice around apprenticeships and re-skilling for older workers
  • Approach employers in sectors with the largest gender imbalances to understand and share measures to overcome gender disparities in apprenticeships.

Financial instability later in life

  • Work with the Money and Pensions Service to understand how to improve women’s financial outcomes and to use this new found knowledge to inform the National Financial Capability Strategy
  • Update guidance to ensure that couples are aware of, and can consider the benefits of, pension sharing
  • Introduce a new voluntary Investing in Women Code, increasing the transparency of funding allocated to female entrepreneurs and expose the gender gap in investment.

We need to ensure that we sustain strong foundations for the future

  • Review equal pay legislation and consider where mandatory equal pay audits could be appropriate and proportionate
  • Set up a taskforce to begin to tackle the workplace culture that allows pregnancy and maternity discrimination to persist
  • Review workplace sexual harassment legislation and consult on whether to extend the 3 month time limit for employment tribunal claims after any incident of harassment or discrimination
  • Use the new Gender Equality Monitor, published alongside the roadmap, which brings together metrics from across government to monitor a number of KPIs to understand gender equality issues in the UK and track progress made.

Mourdant reflects that the document is only the first step in the right direction, and that other inequalities (such as ethnicity) and combinations of factors (including socio-economic and geographical) can cause greater disadvantages. It is good to see that the Government recognise the limitations of the current data set and specific focus of the roadmap, but it would be interesting to see data from the equality monitor, Race Disparity Unit and evidence of other additional barriers overlaid to develop a more complex picture of the challenges faced to begin to tackle these issues.

I do think the roadmap is an important opportunity to be ambitious and set some challenging targets given the significant inequality currently experienced – on Equal Pay Day earlier this year we were reminded it would take around 60 years to achieve pay parity between men and women at the current rate alone (2). The key here however is to be accountable and bring about measurable change, something which hopefully the new monitor will continue to offer transparency of. This aside, it’s still a very ambitious move to commit to improving Universal Credit without addressing some of the RTI issues!

*See (1) for full details. The actions referenced above are taken as excerpts from the original source.