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Gill Dix: Continuing the steps to gender equality

Friday 08 March 2019

Head of Workplace Policy, Gill Dix talks about what international women's day means to her, and gender equality in the workplace.

Gill Dix Gill Dix

Head of Workplace Policy at Acas


 


 

International Women's Day reminds us of the incredible achievements women have made in driving gender equality. It's a celebratory day in the calendar which undeniably deserves its place.

For me, I consider it an important day to spend with my friends, sisters and my daughter. Over the years, we've made sure to do something special whether that's attending marches or rallies, poetry readings or having a general social gathering. The most memorable is perhaps a trip in the mid-1980s to support the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in their fight to prevent the storage of cruise missiles. I went for the day, handing out teabags and toothpaste. Remarkably, the camp stayed active for 19 years. Most of us only make small contributions, but it's important to recognise those steps we can all play in encouraging progress.

More recently, at least at work, my focus has been on the steps to equality in employment. We've seen progress over the years, including the Equality Act, the significant shifts in maternity and paternity rights and flexible working, and gender pay gap reporting. All of these represent steps towards achieving a #BalanceforBetter. I'll continue to take my hat off to those that lead and promote the campaigns that support legislative and cultural change.

But of course, change takes time, and we aren't quite there yet:

  • Having more women in senior leadership has been shown to increase a business' profitability, yet the message of what's good for business doesn't seem to be filtering through. According to figures from the Hampton-Alexander review, almost one in four FTSE 350 companies have only one woman on their board.

  • The introduction of the gender pay gap reporting has given transparency to the continuing barriers for women to progression in the workplace but less is established on the solutions to closing the gap. Rights such as shared parental leave (SPL) and flexible working remain out of reach for many and are yet to be normalised. The government estimates that take-up of SPL could be as low as 2%. And the perennial problem of the domestic division of labour (who does what at home) sticks for many.

  • It's been almost half a century since the Equal Pay Act came into effect, and high-profile coverage has helped shine on a light on the issue. But it is a persistent problem, with a recent report by the Young Women's Trust saying that It's (still) a rich man's world,finding that one in five young women say they are illegally paid less than their male colleagues for the same work.

  • Pregnancy and maternity rights have increased, but discrimination in the workplace remains rife, with research from the Department for BEIS estimating that around 54,000 women a year lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity. However, more legal protections could be on the horizon as we await the outcome of the Government's ongoing consultation.

  • We've seen many women breaking their silence on sexual harassment in the revival of the #MeToo movement. But reporting levels remain low - almost one in five (18%) workers in an Acas poll conducted last year said they would be "unlikely" to report sexual harassment if they experienced it. Whether employers are responding to this crisis remains questionable, and something we've explored further in our discussion paper.

So today, let's take a long moment to reflect and to celebrate. To acknowledge all the steps that have been taken to get to where we are. But let's also take the time to decide what steps we can each take next, no matter how big or small, to continue to steer progress and fight for gender equality.

1 Comment

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  • Posted by Adrian Wakeling  |  8 March 2019, 6:09PM
    Great blog Gill. Someone on Twitter today asked “when’s ‘International Men’s Day?’”, to which a woman replied ‘every day’. My experience of the mid-1980s is of playing in a big band, doing gigs to raise money for the miners. I‘ve never been near a mine in my life but, as you say, we should all know what's fair and unfair, equal and unequal, and take steps to do something about it ...