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The Government needs to do more to ensure workplace equality and to tackle female under-representation in certain sectors of the economy, claims a report from the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee.

Workplace gender inequality can occur in many different ways; from women finding it harder to obtain jobs in certain sectors; to restricted opportunities for training and promotion and even sometimes in differing terms and conditions of employment.

The consequences of inequality can be very costly for employers, as demonstrated in the successful equal pay claims against a number of councils that have been reported recently in the media.

Workplace equality has still not been achieved

“Four decades since the Equal Pay Act, we still do not have full workplace equality. We cannot wait another 40 years,” said Adrian Bailey MP, Chair of the Committee, commenting on the Report. “Comprising over half the population, significant public funds are invested in women. Ensuring they reach their full potential is therefore as much an economic argument as one about equality.”

“At the heart of the matter is the need for cultural change. Without this we address symptoms rather than causes,” he added.

Suggested areas for action

The Report recommends a number of areas in which the Government should take action, including setting targets for encouraging women into apprenticeship sectors where they are currently under-represented, and taking concerted action to improve female representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In addition, the Report recommends that employees be given the right to request flexible working right from the start of their employment, rather than having to wait until after they have been in post for six months.

It calls on the Government to establish a voluntary Code of Practice to highlight best practice in the provision of quality part-time and flexible working, and to take action to dispel the myth that any type of flexible working is problematic and cannot work.

Further recommendations

The Report also suggests that the Government should:

  • Reconsider its decisions to introduce fees for pregnancy discrimination cases, and to ‘call time’ on the undertaking of Equality Impact Assessments.
  • Retain the questionnaire procedures in discrimination cases and the Public Sector Equality Duty in their current forms. According to the Committee, Government policy in these areas runs counter to its professed commitment to equality.
  • Introduce regulations under section 78 of the Equality Act 2010 to require large private sector employers to undertake equal pay audits. The EHRC should publish details of those businesses that are non-compliant.
  • Set out clear figures, and a timescale, to outline to businesses what will be done if targets for increasing the number of women on boards are not achieved.

“The Government’s stated commitment to workplace equality is welcome. Its actions at times, however, not only fail to live up to the rhetoric, but stand in direct contradiction to it,” concluded Adrian Bailey.

Report welcomed in many quarters

The publication of the Report has been welcomed by a number of different organisations.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady described it as making a number of welcome proposals to improve workplace equality and boost women’s career and pay prospects. In particular, the TUC said it shared the Committee’s concerns about pregnancy discrimination, and urged the Government to take this issue seriously.

Work-life balance organisation Working Families also welcomed the Report, and expressed satisfaction that it highlighted the issues around pregnancy discrimination, particularly as 10% of calls to its helpline are apparently related to this problem, and the charity believes this to be just the tip of the iceberg.

In addition, Working Families welcomed the Report’s “myth-busting” findings regarding flexible working, and its belief that flexible working can allow employers to obtain the most effective use of its staff.

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Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v1.0.