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Understanding what's needed to close the gender pay gap

Although the five most powerful people in Britain are women, this progressive stance still fails to translate into businesses across the nation. It is for this reason that the government has laid out the requirement for companies across the UK to publish details regarding their gender pay gaps.

With the deadline fast-approaching on the 6th of April, many employers are now taking a closer look at the differences in average pay between the men and women within their companies. Although the government’s initiative requires companies to publicly reveal their gender pay gap, it is clear that this transparency alone is not all that is needed to drive the fundamental change that will close the gender pay gap. .

In this blog, we analyse how flexible working could close the gender pay gap and bring equality to the workplace

Could flexible working close the gender pay gap?

A recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has highlighted flexible working as its primary recommendation to close the gender pay gap and achieve equality in the workplace. The cross-party watchdog has called for all UK jobs to be advertised as flexible in order to tackle the pay imbalance between men and women - which is currently a nationwide gap of just over 18 percent according to the Office of National Statistics.

The EHRC report states:

“A large part of the gender pay gap is down to women’s concentration in part-time work which doesn’t make use of their skill. Old-fashioned approaches to flexibility in the workplace and a lack of support for those wishing to re-enter the labour market are stopping employers from making the most of women’s talent and experience.”

Research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that the mean gender pay gap is approximately 8 percent before children are born, and widens to approximately 30 percent by the time the eldest child reaches the age of 20. Over this period, the average working mother will spend 10 fewer years in full- time work in comparison to fathers, and seven more years in part-time work.

Because part-time roles are usually lower-paid and often filled by women who become mothers, the Fawcett Society highlights flexible working as a primary solution to the narrowing the gender pay gap, stating that the first step would involve advertising more roles as flexible.

How flexible working could close the gender pay gap

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that flexible working still tends to be seen as a benefit granted to employees that request it, rather than a standard means of organising work. Although 62 percent of organisations consider flexible working upon an employee’s request, less than half of HR leaders said that flexible options are open to all employees. However, providing equal access to flexible working could be the key to achieving gender parity in the workplace

The Family and Childcare Trust warns that flexible working practices can become stigmatised if promoted solely as an option for parents and carers. Meanwhile, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) states that establishing a workplace culture where both men and women take parental leave, and flexible hours opportunities, further improves the chances of women being equally valued. On the flipside, if flexible working continues to be seen as a part-time option for women only, the goal of achieving gender pay parity will only continue to slip further away from our grasp.

Steps to close the gender pay gap

In addition to the increasing concern regarding gender inequality in business, employers must also own up to the fact that the current skill shortage gap within the UK is widening. This means that employers must be constantly on the lookout for ways to attract and retain the best of the best in order to thrive in business. Flexibility in the workplace is undervalued by employers who don’t fully understand the power of offering a little choice in hours and working conditions.

Fortunately, there are a number reasonable flexible working options for business leaders to consider, including part-time, remote working or job shares. If you believe that flexibility is the key to close the gender pay gap, here are some top tips to follow:

1. Advertise jobs as flexible from the point of hire

Although many jobseekers across the board wish to work flexibly, the UK’s labour market is still significantly inflexible in terms of listed vacancies, with just 9 percent of full-time jobs earning more than £20,000 a year being advertised as flexible. This is a major contributing factor towards the gender pay gap. “We want jobs to be made flexible by default – it’s good for women candidates who might not be able to conform to a rigid working week. It’s also really good for employers because it means that they start fishing in a bigger pond and reaching the most talented candidates, rather than those who can simply commit to a certain number of working hours,” says Jemima Olchawski, Head of policy and insight at the Fawcett Society.

2. Design flexibility into new and existing roles

Flexible working is far more likely to succeed when a role is designed flexibly, rather than just having elements of flexibility squeezed in. However, some organisations still try to take shortcuts, such as expecting a part-time employee to cram a full-time job into fewer days. Job redesign is a good way to implement flexible working into the office culture. One way to incorporate flexibility into new and existing roles would involve analysing the split between fixed place and fixed time tasks to identify specific elements that could be ‘flexed’ to improve how work is managed, and ultimately enhance work/life balance whilst not compromising service.

3. It's not just about women

The stigma around men working flexibly also needs to change, and as such the EHRC calls for increased paternity leave. This approach will position women and men on a level playing field, which in turn will increase gender equality. In fact, The Guardian reported that a study in Sweden found that for every month a father took paid leave, the mother’s future earnings increased by 7 percent. Similarly, the sooner we make flexible working essential for everyone, and not just an issue about working mothers, the better off we'll all be.

Are you a woman returning to the professional workforce?

Are you a mom with professional experience who is endeavouring to re-enter the workforce? At Search, we recruit for a number of roles within Professional Services, including HR, Legal and Accountancy & Finance. We are committed to help you on the right track towards the career that matches your qualifications and experience. To see our latest vacancies, click here.

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