Business Law & Compliance

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Giving women a break: The laws fighting gender gaps

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Whilst they’ve often been referred to as “family-friendly” policies, the truth is that employers need to now provide these as basic legal requirements, and they are just as useful to men as they are women. 

For most companies, supporting women in the workplace can come naturally, but others can often feel overwhelmed by the constant changes to the law and can risk forgetting to adapt existing policies. Without following the law bosses put themselves at risk from litigation, and costly court cases that could have been avoided if they had simply taken some guidance and implemented the laws when they were introduced.

We see many employers keen to facilitate and aid women in their professional careers because they’re an asset to the company, and this is exactly why these laws have been created. It’s well known that diverse teams make better decisions and deliver results.
Taking just a few moments to know where you stand legally can improve recruitment, reinvigorate your team and create a positive company culture.

Equal pay

Last year the CMI and XpertHR reported that women would have to work until the age of 80 to make up for being out-earned by men over their careers. This shocking statistic clearly shows women should not be underpaid simply on the basis of their gender. As the UK stands currently, we have the sixth largest pay gap between men and women in the European Union

The government has finally realised this issue and new legislation is coming into force that will see bosses with 250 employees publish their data on how they pay men and women. The hope is that this will encourage businesses to pay fairly, and whilst it’s currently limited to large firms this could see a shift for small businesses who don’t have the complexities of pay audits. 

Many believe that the next step in pay is making women more confident in negotiating their pay terms. When men are recruited they are characteristically more confident in negotiating salaries, which can set them off on high earnings.

Flexible working

Although this was introduced in 2014 the legislation for flexible working has probably been the most effective law in enabling women to carry on their careers whilst maintaining their family responsibilities. Working hours around childcare has often been highlighted as one of the main issues around women returning to work, and this has been resolved with the introduction of the law. 

Although some employers were already being reasonable to parents, the code of practice that has been developed allows for a more supportive system and one that is backed by the government. With an employer’s permission you can now change your working hours so that you miss rush hour, or perhaps work from home all or part of a week. It does admittedly reduce childcare costs for parents, but it is not exclusively for them. 

Any employee can request flexible working hours within reason to encourage a better work/life balance. Not only are businesses now able to hold on to valuable team members but it’s being proven to increase commitment, improve productivity and make companies far more desirable to future candidates.

Parental leave

New rights allowing parents to share leave following the birth or adoption of their child came into effect in spring 2015. But whilst many women are aware of the law, there have been some reports that employers are not making male employees aware of this new legislation. 

Up to 50 weeks of leave can be shared by parents if they meet the eligibility criteria. Whilst it was traditionally only an option for women to take time off, now they can have the support of a partner. The eligibility rules can be confusing, but it’s a significant policy in continuing support for women who wish to return to their careers.

It’s clear that the traditional landscape of working is not only being improved by the law to help women, but employees in general. 

Women have often been at the forefront of the campaigns simply because the family responsibilities have fallen on to them, but we are seeing an increased support from the government that we should all be embracing these new policies and improving our lives.

As it was reported this week that Sweden has now adopted a six hour work week due to increased productivity and improved wellbeing, the UK has a long way to go with it’s strict working laws, but the more businesses that implement these changes the more that can be done to make positive changes to our economy.

Rebecca Bridges is employment solicitor at Taylor Rose.

Concerned with issues surrounding gender diversity in business? Don’t miss the Real Business First Women programme:

Drawing on years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit  designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business.

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