Giving Evidence to the BIS Select Committee on Women in the Workplace

Blog by Rachael Saunders - Head of Communications

On 27 November, Helen Wells and I represented Opportunity Now at the Business, Innovation and Skills Select committee as they take evidence on women at work. The Committee has a broad remit and enquiry is based on a series of questions

  • Do the Gender Equality Duty and the Equality Act go far enough in tackling inequalities, such as gender pay gap and job segregation, between men and women in the workplace? 
  • What steps should be taken to provide greater transparency on pay and other issues, such as workforce composition?
  • What has been the impact of the current economic crisis on female employment and wage levels? 
  • How should the gender stereotyping prevalent in particular occupations be tackled? For example, in engineering, banking, construction, and the beauty industry.
  • What more should be done to promote part-time work at all levels of the workplace and to ensure that both women and men have To what extent have the recommendations in Lord Mervyn Davies’ Report “Women on Board” (published in February 2011) been acted upon?
  • To what extent should investors take into account the percentage of women on boards, when considering company reporting and appointments to the board?
  • Why are there still so few women in senior positions on boards, and what are the benefits of having a greater number?
  • How successful is the voluntary code of conduct (a recommendation of the Davies Report) which addresses gender diversity and best practice, covering relevant search criteria and processes relating to FTSE board level appointments?

In our session we were asked questions about equal pay, the public sector equality duty and women led SMEs. 

We set out the need for individual companies to have their own business case, as well as for a widely understood societal business case for women’s progression and equal pay.  We were asked about government proposals for changes to maternity and paternity leave, and gave our support in principle to the more flexible use of leave, although we were disappointed in the lack of a longer reserved period of leave for fathers. 

There was some difference in views on the panel about whether gender pay audits should be compulsory.

Our view is that whilst they are a vital tool, they are a diagnostic tool and will only work where there is genuine organisational support behind getting to the bottom of what is really going on pay and reward in an organisation.  Legal compulsion won’t guarantee the full cooperation needed to understand the reality of who gets what and why in terms of pay and reward. 

There were questions around the public sector equality duty. Our view is that we support the principle of the duty, and that it has had an impact in ensuring that promoting equality is there in the design of services, rather than mitigated afterwards.  This has made a difference in the private as well as public sector, through procurement and partnership. 

It was a useful session, although our 45 minutes went quickly!  We look forward to seeing the committee’s final report