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Women have undoubtedly come a long way in terms of levelling out the social and economic playing field with their male counterparts. However, there is still some way to go before we achieve complete gender equality. In part 1 of this series, we take a look at how currently women rank in the professional world and how employers can implement a cultural shift in the workplace!

Women still lagging behind men in the professional world

According to Rachel Suff, Employment Relations Officer at CIPD, more action is needed by the government to tackle maternity discrimination and sexual harassment against women in the workplace. “Over the past few months there has been more than one worrying study about the extent and nature of disadvantage women continue to experience in UK workplaces,” she writes.

One study commissioned by the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed the alarming nature and prevalence of pregnancy discrimination among employers.

Researchers found that three in four mothers (77%) said they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return to work. Around one in nine mothers (11%) said they felt forced to leave their job. Furthermore, one in five mothers (20%) said they experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer or colleagues, while one in ten (10%) mothers were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments.

While the majority of employers (84%) reported that it was in their interests to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave, more than a quarter (27%) felt pregnancy put an unreasonable cost burden on the workplace and 17% believed that pregnant women and mothers were less interested in career progression and promotion than other employees.

Another study by the Trade Union Congress found that sexual harassment at work is still a serious problem for working women, with nearly two in three women having experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. Approximately 32% of women had been subjected to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature while at work, while more than one in four (28%) of women had been unwilling recipients of inappropriate comments about their body or clothes at work.

“These findings show that regulation alone - although very important in setting standards and providing a route for individuals to bring a claim for discrimination and/or harassment - is not enough to stamp out discriminatory attitudes and behaviour towards women in the workplace,” she added.

How employers can implement cultural shift in the workplace

According to Rachel, employers should have a robust framework and policies to combat any potential harassment or discrimination against women in the workplace, including unconscious bias. Such policies should cover every aspect of employment, including recruitment and selection along with training and promotion.

However, she also notes that policies alone are not enough, arguing that the importance of gender equality needs to be promoted at every level of the organisation. She maintains that this is because having a supportive and inclusive culture around diversity is the only way to ensure that there is zero tolerance of any form of discrimination and harassment, and that people's behaviour reflects the right values and behaviour around diversity.

“Senior leaders therefore have a vital role to play in demonstrating the expectations and attitudes that promote gender diversity - these need to be communicated effectively to the whole workforce and embedded in training for line managers so that their management style is open and inclusive,” she says.

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 Read Part Two Here.