How to recruit women for the 21st century

A new toolkit for increasing gender equality in recruitment was launched yesterday.

review of the year

Gender equality in recruitment

The Government should consider setting up a diversity fund to help SMEs to offer coaching and mentoring to support women in the workplace, according to a new toolkit launched by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work.

The How to recruit women for the 21st century toolkit was launched at Westminster yesterday. It contained a number of practical recommendations for increasing gender equality at work.

The report highlighted the importance of confidence building initiatives, such as mentoring, to help overcome the issues faced by women returners and maternity returners as well as the “self-belief slump” suffered by girls in secondary school. It cited figures from Girlguiding UK which shows that girls’ confidence that they will succeed in the workplace declines from 86% at primary school to just 35% by the end of secondary school.

The report also called for the Government to ensure that companies publishing gender pay gap data break this down according to categories such as ethnicity, disability and age so it is apparent how different forms of discrimination impact on each other. The report highlights how some women often face multiple levels of discrimination, for instance, black women, women with disabilities and Muslim women.

In addition the report recommends that smaller companies could in the future be required to report their gender pay gap. The Government recently turned down a recommendation from the business, energy and industrial strategy committee to do just that.

Other recommendations from the toolkit include a call for new guidance on the effective use of positive action due to confusion over how the law works; the removal of barriers to apprenticeships for young women; better data on economically inactive women in response to figures showing the number of young women who are not in work is rising; and a strengthening of equality protections for women with disabilities.

From job design to job progression

The toolkit highlights barriers faced by women in all stages of the recruitment process from job design to job progression and has a list of tips for employers.

They include a proposal that job specs be reviewed so that the default is not always traditional working patterns and flexible working is not seen as a privilege.

The toolkit promotes pay transparency with pay advertised according to salary bands rather than being negotiated according to previous earnings – something which typically entrenches pay inequality. It also highlights the need for inclusive language in job adverts, name-blind applications and task-based assessments at interview and says experience outside work should be considered at interview. Other toolkit tips include:

  • Using pre-defined, structured questions to ensure all applicants are treated the same
  • Implementing regular and ongoing unconscious bias training
  • Ensuring hiring panels are diverse
  • Reviewing partner institutions and whether they can be diversified
  • Using relatable role models and getting senior managers to role model flexible working
  • Introducing a systematic approach to managing employees’ return to work after long periods
  • Promoting sponsorship programmes as well as mentoring
  • Broadening the apprenticeship levy into a more flexible skills levy that could be used to train temporary workers
  • Ensuring greater training and development opportunities for self-employed women.

Launching the report, Jess Phillips, co-chair of the APPG on Women and Work, drew attention to findings such as that disabled people are assumed to take more sick days when the evidence shows the opposite and that women with Muslim-sounding names find it much more difficult to get interviews.

She said she hoped the recommendations would be taken up by Government and employers.  “I hope the recommendations in this toolkit will be listened to. The time for saying this needs to change is over. The time for changing it is now,” she stated.

Another speaker, Kiran Vadher from the Government Equalities Office spoke of her job share role, called for more such roles as a way of increasing diversity in senior roles and said more should be done to encourage portfolio careers.

Dawn Butler, Shadow Women & Equalities Secretary, said there was a crossover between the APPG on Women and Work and the work of  the All Party Parliamentary Group on Governance and Inclusive Leadership and that there should be closer working across all aspects of inclusion.

Helen Whateley, Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for Women, added that it was important that flexible working should be available to all and highlighted how many men struggled to get the flexibility they wanted. Without flexible working being the default for all she said there would not be equality in the workplace.

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