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Getting the balance right: addressing the problem of gender inequality

As news breaks that Lady Leeona Dorrian has become the first woman in 692 years to be appointed Lord Justice Clerk, Michelle Last, employment lawyer at Keystone Law, asks whether industries across the board are finally confronting the gender gap issue.

Despite the Equal Pay Act 45 years ago, women still earn less than men in Britain today. The difference in pay between men and women remains the clearest and most dramatic example of inequality for women.

The gender pay gap is a highly complex issue with a number of causes which are often inter-related. Incredibly, even today, some still argue whether the gender pay gap even exists at all. But one cannot argue with the facts. Studies by The Office for National Statistics demonstrated that in 2012, the average pay of women working full time was around only 85% of men’s pay. Meanwhile, in 2013, average pay for women working full time fell by 0.9% to 84.3% – meaning that when compared to men, women were effectively working for free after 4 November 2014. More recently, research by Robert Half showed that women are still likely to receive £300,000less than their male counterparts, over the course of their careers.

But are things finally beginning to change?

Women might be in a stronger position than ever, in terms of the workplace and career opportunities, but there’s still a long way to go.

It might have been illegal since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act of 1970 but women are still being paid less than men for doing the same work. Instances in which this can happen include a situation that sees a man and a woman in exactly the same role yet receiving different pay. The same can be said for work of equivalent value being done by women who are still underpaid.

Another major factor is thatwomen continue to bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities. As a result, more women enter into part-time work, and these jobs are typically lower paid and offer less routes for progression. The Government appeared to be confronting this particular issue with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in 2015 but take-up by fathers remains low for a number of reasons, while only 2% of employers of UK companies have reported having a significant uptake.[1]

In addition, the ongoing glass ceiling issue continues to be a problem in that men still make up the majority of those in the most senior and well-paid roles.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Recent news of Lady Dorrian’s appointment as the first female Lord Justice Clerk, in almost 700 years, shows that even the notoriously traditional legal sector cannot escape the gender revolution forever. There will have been many other suitably qualified and experienced senior female lawyers for this role in the history of the legal profession. But the appointment is worthy of celebration and female lawyers across the UK will be in awe of her accolade. It seems that we are within reach of a turning point in the legal profession, as the media frenzy around women in senior legal and business positions places the recognition of talented women firmly in the spotlight.

So what more can employers do?

  1. Ensure that you and your business are well versed in anti-discrimination laws such as equal pay and harassment. This will make life easier when implementing specific policies.
  2. Enforce equal pay for men and women, making sure that all employees are given equal opportunities in the workplace.
  3. Provide the appropriate training to senior staff and managers.
  4. When granting promotions or assigning roles, ensure that you are doing so on merit and not on a gender basis.
  5. Consider anonymised job applications when recruiting externally.
  6. Ask your internal or external recruiter to ensure that candidates put forward for roles have sufficient female representation.
  7. Consider appointing senior sponsors to help mentor female employees.
  8. Enlist the help and support of a specialist employment lawyer to make sure you’re fully compliant with all existing laws.

[1] /other/keynotes/2016/03/let%E2%80%99s-share-the-childcare-shared-parental-leave-one-year-on/

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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