What can small employers do to improve gender equality in the workplace?

What small businesses can do to enure gender equalityThe issue of gender equality in the workplace has garnered much publicity in recent months and is one of the biggest issues facing employers in 2018.

Most of the media attention has surrounded information on Gender Pay Gap Reporting (GPGR) which forces companies with 250+ employees to publish a report detailing aspects of staff pay and bonuses.

Whilst smaller employers are not caught by this requirement, it will be wise for all employers to take appropriate measures to address gender equality in their workplace. So what steps can you take to do this?

It should be noted that equality does not just relate to monetary pay but covers all practices and procedures affecting employees whilst at work so employers should consider all areas of the business when attempting to address gender inequality.

Ensure gender equality when recruiting

Efforts to improve gender equality can begin as early as the recruitment stage. When advertising jobs, small employers would be wise to use multiple platforms (e.g. job boards, external recruitment companies and LinkedIn), as this allows the advert to be reached by a more diverse audience of potential applicants.

The construction and language of job adverts should also be considered. You should avoid the use of any gender specific terms such as “waitress” or “workman” and use gender neutral language to avoid discouraging a particular gender from applying.

Employers are also advised to consider stating roles are suitable for those looking for flexible hours, where possible, as this will help encourage applications from those with personal or home responsibilities.

The scope for improving gender equality further extends to how the interview stage is carried out. It’s good practice to have 2 interviewees in attendance, preferably of differing gender if possible, in order to avoid any bias and ensure fairness when you’re making the decision on which candidate to employ.

Make sure your hire objectively

When you’re evaluating which interviewee is best suited for the role, you should always base your decisions on objective factors such as qualifications, experience and suitability.

However, in the event that two or more candidates are judged to be equal, you are legally allowed to hire an individual of a particular gender providing this gender is underrepresented in your business. This is known as ‘positive action’ and is made lawful under the Equality Act 2010.

A common theme with the larger companies that have published their gender pay information is that they have revealed a lack of women carrying out senior roles within the business.

Employers can look to improve the diversity of those working in senior roles by implementing clear job descriptions and requirements for senior roles. These changes would increase clarity surrounding certain positions and may encourage staff to apply for specific roles safe in the knowledge that they have the necessary experience and qualifications required.

Advertising promotion opportunities to all members of staff, and not just those of a particular gender, will also help.

Consider family friendly leave

Whilst Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) are set by legislation, you could seek to improve gender equality by offering increased pay for family friendly leave.

Where possible, this will help employees make decisions on leave depending on what works for their family and not because of financial pressures, helping to increase the uptake of male employees using Shared Parental Leave. It will also help encourage employees to return to work as they are aware that you are a supportive employer.

It is vital that you attempt to foster a culture of openness and acceptance in your business to ensure gender equality, as it is common for workplaces with a large male contingent to develop a negative culture.

Instil clear harassment policies

You should make sure you have clear policies on sexual harassment and bullying, and ensure all staff receive training on what workplace conduct is considered unacceptable.

In the event that anyone falls foul of these policies, employers must ensure the matter is treated seriously and that the necessary disciplinary procedure is followed.

If your employees work with the general public, it’s advisable to take measures to protect staff from third party harassment by placing signs in clear view noting that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.

Check your pay & bonus schemes for gender bias

Whilst smaller employers may not necessarily face the same level of pressure for dealing with gender inequality as larger companies, it is vital they still take the appropriate measures to address this issue.

With this in mind, you may wish to conduct your own version of the GPGR by carrying out a voluntary review of your pay and bonus structures to review whether any gender bias exists in your business.

Employers have to provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of the gender of the employees, so you can use the results of your own pay structures to address any unconscious pay disparities that might exist. As a small business, you wouldn’t need to publish the results, instead you can use it to help you construct new workplace policies aimed at addressing gender equality.

You could also introduce a formal pay structure to improve transparency around pay levels which will remove concerns about discriminatory pay rates.

Failing to take steps to improve gender equality can leave you with disgruntled staff, leading to lower engagement and lower productivity. There is also the risk of receiving discrimination claims which could lead to financial and reputational damage to your business.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Peter Done, Managing Director of Peninsula Business Services – the UK’s leading specialist Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety service. Peter has written a series of employment guides for ByteStart, which include;

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