International Women’s Day: Advancing Gender Equality in the Workplace

On March 8, 2024, the global community comes together to observe International Women’s Day, a time to reflect on progress made and the challenges that persist in achieving gender equality.  As societies strive to create more inclusive workplaces, the UN’s theme for 2024 is “invest in women” and a wider campaign based in the UK is based on inspiring inclusion.  Legislation, policies, and organisational practices play a critical role in fostering a fair and equitable work environment for all.

From a legal standpoint, irrespective of the specific year or theme, International Women’s Day serves as a reminder of the ongoing efforts to address gender-based discrimination, promote equal opportunities, and protect the rights of women in the workplace. While significant strides have been made in enacting laws and regulations to safeguard women’s rights, there remains a pressing need to ensure their effective implementation and enforcement.

Laws prohibiting gender discrimination in employment are fundamental pillars of employment law in the UK. These laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants on the basis of gender, including in hiring, promotion, compensation, and termination decisions. Moreover, they mandate equal pay for equal work, requiring employers to provide equitable compensation and benefits regardless of gender, pregnancy and maternity leave and pay.  The gender pay gap regulations introduced in 2017 also seek to redress the pay differentials experienced by men and women in the UK and following the 2024 reporting deadline on 4 April, it will be interesting to see what progress was made in 2023 in that respect.

Furthermore, International Women’s Day serves as an occasion to evaluate the effectiveness of existing legal frameworks in addressing systemic inequalities and barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace. While legislative measures provide essential protections, they must be complemented by proactive measures to promote diversity, inclusion, and gender equality within organisations.

Based on last year’s Equal Pay Day, women still work for free for approximately two months of the year and based on analysis of gender pay gap reporting since its inception, it is projected that the gender pay gap in the UK will not be closed until 2051, at the earliest.  Evidently, there is still large progress to be made in this space. 

Employers play a pivotal role in driving change and creating a workplace culture that values and respects diversity. They can take concrete steps to advance gender equality, such as implementing gender-neutral recruitment and promotion practices, offering family-friendly policies such as parental leave and flexible work arrangements, and providing training and resources to combat harassment and discrimination.

International Women’s Day offers an opportunity for employers to reflect on their compliance and identify areas for improvement. Conducting regular audits of employment practices (including pay, bonuses, commission and promotion), reviewing policies and procedures through a gender neutral lens (but considering how it may affect women or non-binary individuals more closely), and soliciting feedback from employees can help organisations identify and address potential areas of concern.

By working together to eliminate discrimination, promote diversity, and create inclusive workplaces, we can build a future where every individual, regardless of gender, has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.  It is eminently possible for employers to both invest in women and inspire inclusion through every aspect of their employment.

Tips for Employers

Of course it is commercially and morally responsible for employers to think about how they can support International Women’s Day, but it is absolutely critical that the support they offer runs all year round, irrespective of the day itself. Employers can take proactive steps to foster a more inclusive and equitable workplace environment every day. Here are some practical tips:

  1. Promote Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: Implement and actively promote diversity and inclusion programmes within the organisation. This can include training sessions on unconscious bias, inclusive leadership workshops, and initiatives to celebrate the contributions of women in the workforce.
  2. Ensure Equal Pay and Opportunities: Conduct regular audits to ensure pay equity (critically analysing bonus, commission, pensions and other elements of remuneration alongside basic salary) across genders and provide equal opportunities for career advancement. Establish transparent processes for promotions, assignments, and leadership roles to prevent gender-based discrimination.
  3. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements: Recognise and accommodate the diverse needs of employees, including working parents and caregivers. Offer flexible work arrangements such as remote work options, flexible hours, and job-sharing opportunities to support work-life balance for all employees.
  4. Provide Support for Career Development: Offer mentorship and sponsorship programmes to support the career growth of women within the organisation. Provide access to training, networking opportunities, and professional development resources to help women advance in their careers.
  5. Address Workplace Harassment and Bias: Create a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination in the workplace (although as with any zero-tolerance approach, be careful to enforce such a policy considering the context). Establish clear reporting mechanisms and provide training for employees and managers on how to recognise and address bias and harassment.
  6. Promote Work-Life Balance: Encourage a culture that values work-life balance and well-being for all employees. Offer benefits such as parental leave, wellness programmes, and employee assistance programmes to support the holistic health and wellness of employees.
  7. Support Women-Owned Businesses: Partner with women-owned businesses and suppliers as part of your procurement process. This demonstrates a commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs and promoting economic inclusion.
  8. Celebrate International Women’s Day: Organise events and activities to celebrate International Women’s Day within the workplace. This can include panel discussions, guest speakers, workshops, and networking events focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment but ensure that the feedback or best practices gathered at such events are incorporated all year round.
  9. Listen to Employee Feedback: Create avenues for employees to provide feedback and share their experiences. Conduct regular surveys or focus groups to gather input on workplace culture, policies, and initiatives related to gender equality.
  10. Lead by Example: Foster a culture of inclusivity and equality from the top down. Senior leaders should demonstrate their commitment to gender equality through their actions, policies, and decision-making processes.

By implementing these practical tips, you can contribute to creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace where all employees, regardless of gender, feel valued, supported, and empowered to succeed.

For further information, or to discuss the issues raised within this article, please ​contact us to speak to a member of our Employment Team.

Alex Harper
Senior Solicitor, Employment
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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