5 things businesses can do to support women at work

Post author image. Charlotte Woodworth
Image of Charlotte Woodworth

Business in the Community (BITC) publishes The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2020 this week. It is the UK’s largest and longest running in-depth look at what employers are doing to champion women at work. BITC’s Gender Equality Campaign Director Charlotte Woodworth looks at what lessons the project has for those dealing with the threat COVID-19 poses to diversity and inclusion at work.

Headlines about the impact of COVID-19 on different groups can make for grim reading. From race to age to location, demographics are experiencing the health crisis and economic challenges in very different ways. When it comes to gender equality, there are worrying signs progress to support women at work will not only stall but go backwards.

BITC’s Times Top 50 Employers for Women awards show us clearly what works when it comes to recruiting, retaining, and progressing women in the workforce. The lessons learned about the role of measurement, the need to integrate diversity and inclusion into wider business planning, and the powerful impact of senior leadership can help us push back on the risks to equality posed by COVID-19.

“Your actions now could save lives”

Here are five steps employers can do to champion women in their workplace.

  1. Report your gender pay gap: publicly sharing information about where your organisation is at is a powerful way to focus minds and prompt action, doing so even though the legal requirement has been lifted shows a commitment to gender equality that goes beyond what’s required by law. Now is also an apt time to assess and share your ethnicity pay gap; many BITC members already do this and we can help with both of these calculations.
  2. Make sure any big changes are not affecting some groups more than others: commit to understanding which groups in your workforce will be most affected by any structural or operational changes and take steps to address any skewed impact. Previous downturns have hit some groups significantly harder than others – notably women and members of the black and minority ethnic community. However, we hear anecdotally that often decision makers didn’t realise this or only understood when they put all the changes together.
  3. Ask leaders to share how they are juggling responsibilities outside work with the day job: for many, the recent crisis will have made combining caring – whether for children, relatives or others – with paid work especially hard. At BITC, we hear time and again that employees are wary of how shared parental leave, flexible working, or similar will be perceived, whatever the human resources policy. This crisis is a golden opportunity to highlight senior leaders, ideally men, changing their working pattern to pick up caring responsibilities right now – potentially changing attitudes on this in the longer term. The actions you take now could deliver a big rise in take up of shared parental leave.
  4. Face the facts on domestic abuse: most employers will have staff experiencing domestic abuse. The rise in home working, and the pressures many families are under, has seen levels skyrocket. But the raised profile of this issue has seen many employers feel more comfortable tackling it, giving the issue more attention and prominence. They want to support staff experiencing abuse to the best of their abilities. Your actions now could save lives – now and in the future; we can help develop and integrate company policies on domestic abuse – check out our toolkit for starters.
  5. Jump on the changed attitudes to flexible working: flexible or agile working is not a silver bullet, but the research shows it can make a real difference when it comes to enabling women to secure, retain and progress in their jobs. As lockdown eases, now is the perfect time to revise and upgrade your policies on agile working, drawing down on the learning of the recent times and thinking through what can best help your employees.

The pandemic risks widening inequalities of all kinds, but the lessons learned in ‘normal times’, can help us build back responsibly. Business that champion diversity and inclusion will play a role in ensuring a fairer more equal world emerges, while building up their own resilience.