A sweeping new initiative to improve the prospects and wellbeing of women in the UK was unveiled by the Government Equalities Office on 3 July. 
Entitled Gender Equality at Every Stage: A Roadmap for Change, the policy paper contains a wide-ranging, holistic set of proposals to boost women’s economic status – pointing out that reducing gender gaps in wages, labour-market participation and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) qualifications could increase the UK economy’s overall size by around 2% – or £55 billion – by 2030.
The Equalities Office has positioned the Roadmap to unroll across several levels, such as:
- Society Creating real choice and opportunity in every aspect of life;
- Individuals Removing limiting beliefs around career and life choices, and
- Wellbeing Increasing job quality and raising incomes, particularly at the lower end, for the benefit of the nation’s health.
In its section on employment, the publication notes: “We will enhance the service for employers reporting their data on the online gender pay gap reporting service and ensure the information is presented in a user-friendly way to help people understand the data.
“We will consider what additional information employers can and should upload to increase transparency about policies and initiatives to support gender equality – for example their family friendly policies or retention rates of employees returning from parental leave. We will also align with other transparency asks of employers, to maximise efficiency across government.”
It goes on: “We will launch a national campaign for employers, to be developed with key professional bodies, empowering employers to understand how to help employees balance work and care and support progression to advance gender equality in the workplace. This will be based on our world-leading research programmes and sit alongside our latest evidence-based guidance for employers.”
In addition, the Roadmap aims to tackle issues around how women are portrayed in the media, via a new barometer designed to measure the prevalence of harmful gender stereotypes in UK advertising.
Does the initiative have what it takes to bring about lasting change – particularly on the matter of the gender pay gap?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “What I find particularly interesting about the Roadmap is how it broadens the definition of a family-friendly organisation. With that in mind, it has flagged up a series of actions that leaders must take to guarantee a more equal gender representation. But for me, the real keyword here is ‘transparency’.
“I’ve often pointed out that the legal requirement for firms to publish their gender pay gaps, and the figures that subsequently emerged, started a whole new series of conversations. Suddenly, leaders had to explain the circumstances that had given rise to their gender pay gaps, and were challenged to outline the steps they would take to close them. Now, the new Roadmap suggests that we are going to be asking leaders: What actually are your family-friendly policies? How do you know they’re working? Are people coming back to work after parental leave? These are the sorts of questions that, when answered, provide really strong insights into whether or not firms’ policies in this area amount to mere rhetoric.”
Cooper notes: “One of the main problems with any sort of initiative is that it always sounds great at the outset, because we can be as ambitious as we like when we’re not working in the settings where these measures have to be brought to life. And it’s how organisations work at a structural and departmental level that determines the likelihood of collective success. So those micro measures of macro initiatives are what we really need in order to see if we are getting any indicators of improvement.”
She adds: “If work is a more attractive place for people with responsibilities outside that environment, and those people are allowed to have mainstream jobs so they’re not marginalised in any way, then whether we’re talking about gender, ethnicity or disability, all those pay gaps will naturally close.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity
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