It’s no secret that employee engagement across the UK leaves a lot to be desired, costing the economy £billions.   It’s also no secret that progress many organisations have made towards gender equality leaves much to be desired.

I was recently struck by a number of items in this area:

A BBC survey of elite sportswomen for Women’s Sports Week found that:

  • more than 40% of elite sportswomen in Britain have experienced sexism but only 7% have reported it;
  • 43% do not believe their governing body supports them and male colleagues equally.

Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission carried out with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills found that:

  • 54,000 new mothers may be forced out of their jobs in Britain yearly from pregnancy /maternity related discrimination;
  • 20% of new mothers experienced harassment or negative comments at work or when pregnant or returning from maternity leave;
  • 9% said that they were treated worse by their employer after returning to work than before and 7% were put under pressure to hand in their notice.

This was despite 84% of employers believing that supporting pregnant workers and those on maternity leave is in the interests of their organisations.

A 2015 Fawcett Society campaign aims to stamp out sexism in the workplace and bring together understanding of the various strands of discrimination against women in the workplace.  The Society noted that:

  • only 11% of FTSE 100 company directors are women;
  • 2/3rds of low paid workers are women;
  • women working full­time are paid on average 17% less than men;
  • women make up just 20% of MPs;
  • Only 26% of civil service top management are women.

Dr Katherine Rake, Director of the Society, said: “Behind the conspicuous wealth of the City lies a hidden story of disadvantage and discrimination affecting women at every level of business …”

Finally the July 2015 Law Society Gazette reporting a Bar Council report notes “Sexism [is] still rampant in the ‘children’s playground’ of the bar”.

Now we can debate the extent, the causes and the social impact for days, which is beyond the time I have to write or you to read. But what struck me was twofold.

  • Firstly, despite most employers aspiring to be equal opportunities employers just how widespread and entrenched sexual discrimination in the workplace still is (I should have known!).
  • Secondly, when women who are arguably as focused and driven as senior sportswomen or barristers struggle to raise discrimination, just how hard is if for everyone else.

My questions for you though are:

  • Even if your organisation aspires to be an equal opportunities employer, is it as devoid of sexual discrimination as you believe?
  • If you are not getting this totally right, in addition to the law and your social duty, what is it costing your organisation in terms of lost talent, demotivation of those directly involved and demotivation of your wider workforce?
  • Can your staff really raise gender related discrimination if they do feel you are falling short in this area? Sticking your head over the parapet can be hard – sticking it over when you feel vulnerable is even harder.
  • If staff do raise issues will they ever get as far as you or will they be filtered on the way.

WorkinConfidence offer a range of services to help organisations get the most out of their employees, including Pulse Surveys and Engagement Surveys. Our online anonymous dialogue platform, SpeakinConfidence is where staff can raise ideas or concerns and give candid feedback to management without barriers. You get the immediate benefits of listening and understanding your organisation and staff - leading to engagement and better governance. Contact us today to find out more or arrange a demonstration.