This was written by Louise Taft, joint head of employment at Prolegal.
Britain has fallen to 26th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report rankings, recording its lowest overall score since 2008. This year’s drop is largely due to a lower score in “economic participation”: ratios of women in the workforce, wage equality and women in senior roles. So what are we doing wrong?
The Top 5 countries are Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Key differences between the Scandinavian countries and Britain are the use of quotas for company boards, subsidised childcare and parental leave that is more evenly split between mums and dads. It seems clear that all are having an effect.
Quotas are controversial, with arguments of discrimination against men, charges of tokenism and objections that lower quality candidates leads to lower quality decision making. There can be no doubt however that the use of such quotas in Scandinavia is having a dramatic positive effect on moves towards gender equality in the workplace.
The Scandinavians also lead the way in sharing parental leave, with Sweden becoming the first country in the world to introduce gender neutral paid parental leave 40 years ago. Shared Parental Leave will be introduced here in 2015 but with limited take up of the Additional Paternity Leave introduced in 2011, there is much doubt as to whether it will provide a revolution in shared parenting. Key features of Scandinavian schemes are long periods reserved for the father – incentivising men to take time out whilst their partners go back to work. This won’t be a feature in Shared Parental Leave.
Unless attitudes change rapidly, women are likely to remain primary carers for some considerable time to come. And for so long as they are, they are likely to be disadvantaged in the workplace.
So the question is what can British employers do to try to address the gender equality imbalance? Is it their problem?
From 1 October 2014, employers losing an equal pay claim can be ordered to carry out an equal pay audit. Businesses who don’t look at their own gender equality statistics and come up with a plan to improve them may well find that they are forced to do so. This will not only be administratively difficult and expensive, but is likely to lead to bad publicity, affecting the brand amongst consumers and candidates.