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This week we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s event comes at a time when there is an increasing focus on equality and women’s rights in the workplace. Business issues keep making the headlines, from dress codes requiring women to wear high heels to allegations of sexual harassment, leading to a reminder that further steps can be taken to progress business practices to ensure equality at work.
To ensure progression in the workplace, it is crucial women are aware of their rights; both statutory and contractual. Additionally, reading key documentation like the employment contract or the employee handbook is crucial as there may be rights or opportunities within these that the employee is unaware of because they haven’t taken the time to review this properly.Key policies, such as the equal opportunities or equality and diversity policy, will usually set out the company’s stance on equal progression and any steps the business will take to achieve this.
Alongside being aware of their rights, women should also be aware of the process to challenge decisions or behaviours within the workplace, whether this is done informally or through formal procedures such as grievances. In some cases, progression may be being hindered by the actions of a manager which are falling under the employer’s radar, for example, where the manager is unconsciously biased against female employees. Female employees who correctly raise their concerns will allow these situations to be addressed properly, with employers able to take steps to resolve any negative impact on the employee.
By 4th April 2018, large employers in the UK are required to publicly report on any gender pay gap within their business. Employees can look for this information and review how the pay analysis affects them. Although these figures do not automatically mean there is an equal pay issue, they may be evidence to show there is a discriminatory attitude within the business. Women who believe there is an equal pay issue – where they are being paid less than a comparable male employee to do like work, work of equal value or work rated as equivalent because of their sex – can ask their colleagues about their salary or pay to determine whether there is an equal pay complaint. Employees in smaller businesses can also speak to their employer and ask them whether they plan to carry out a voluntary review of their gender pay breakdown.
Alongside the gender pay statistics, employers are being encouraged to produce a voluntary narrative as part of their gender pay gap report. The narrative can be used to explain the reasons for any apparent pay gap and set out the steps the employer proposes to take to reduce, or remove, any gender pay gap. Employees can take note of these steps, and any action plans put in place to achieve these, and then monitor whether progress is being made to reduce the disparities. They can also speak to their managers about how these steps will affect their progression in the business.
When workplace decisions are made, employees can ask for written feedback and detailed reasons explaining the decision. Not only does this allow them to review the process to ensure there was no discrimination taking place, it also allows the employee to understand the areas where they scored less or were weaker than others. They can then go on to take steps to improve their skills or ask for training to ensure they have a greater opportunity to progress when a similar decision is being made in the future. As well as professional development, there are numerous opportunities available to workers outside work where they can improve their skills. Mentoring programmes in professional sectors or working with education providers are great schemes to help others whilst helping employees to stand out and improve their chances at work.
The businesses which support equal progression within their workforce will often communicate this openly, allowing women to pick their roles with more confidence. For example, recruitment adverts that state they offer flexible working from the start of employment communicate that the company has a positive attitude towards flexible working and will not regard this as a negative request. It also shows that the employee will not be expected to gain 26 weeks’ service before making a statutory request. Similarly, employers who promote initiatives such as International Women’s Day are highlighting their positive attitude towards progression and equality in the workplace.