Last time on our coverage of the insightful presentation from Business in the Community’s Gender Research and Policy Manager, Kaammini Chanrai, we looked at the recent Gender Pay Gap report and what the results mean for employees and employers alike. Today we look beyond the statistics and into the practicalities of work that make gender pay gaps so ubiquitous in the UK’s job market.

Work-Life Balance

What happens at home can have a significant impact on what happens inside the office, and external responsibilities, which we will discuss later, can play a large part in creating a gender pay gap within any given company. Ms Chanrai began this second part of the presentation by outlining one area that disproportionately affects women: “One of the ways of really understanding an organisation’s pay gap is by looking at how they deal with childcare responsibilities.”

Alongside Santander, Business in the Community launched a project titled “Equal Lives” in March 2018. The project, which Ms Chanrai alluded to in her presentation, aims to explore the professional barriers for men regarding caring responsibilities at home. An initial report from Business in the Community showed that “UK women carry out 60% more domestic labour than men, and mothers provide 74% of childcare.” Although further information is needed for a full conclusion, it’s clear to see that the additional workload is likely to have an impact on careers and general professional life. 

Ms Chanrai continued: “In order for us to achieve gender equality at work, we need to look a little more at gender equality at home.” Ms Chanrai next questioned who was responsible for enforcing a more balanced home life; is it with individuals, employers or the government to ensure both men and women are given equal opportunities to succeed in a professional context? The full “Equal Lives” study will be launched in September 2018.

The presentation moved on to discuss the specific effects caring responsibilities have on an individual’s professional life: “Where this becomes relevant is career breaks, because often people will take breaks from their careers when children are born,” which, as Ms Chanrai confirmed, tends mostly to be women. Additionally, a lack of well-paid part-time work (which are predominantly filled by women) and general attitudes towards workplace commitment (“if you’re not visible in the office… people are not going to take you seriously) greatly hindered women’s career progression.

The presentation then moved on to discuss the connections between work/life balance and the gender pay gap, with Ms Chanrai arguing that equality inside the house must be achieved if inequality is to be eradicated in a professional context. The point was confirmed with a pertinent quote from feminist critic Gloria Steinem: “‘Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.’” Ms Chanrai framed the discourse around the “joys of childcare” that men often miss out on by not being as present in the home.  

Can companies do more to support their staff during periods where external commitments are unavoidable? Businesses can and are encouraged to support staff through initiatives like flexible working, although these opportunities are still not widely available: “If an organisation has a terrible work/life balance… that’s going to affect how people look at them.” The current trend shows that employees both with and without external responsibilities are increasingly driven towards companies that have positive work/life balance schemes.  

Workers may be voting with their applications, but this could arguably result in a somewhat lengthy period before a change is truly felt. Could we look to the government to uphold and promote equal rights through legislation? Shared parental leave policies are already in place; however, as Ms Chanrai said, the policies are not mandatory, and the uptake of men taking advantage of the initiative is below 10%. The audience was invited to look towards Sweden as an example of a country that did the hard job of failing before finding a system that works: 

“In Sweden, when they first introduced this [shared parental leave] policy, it wasn’t compulsory; they didn’t say to fathers ‘you should take that whole time off’… but the take up was incredibly low. And one of the things we have failed to do in this country is to learn our lesson from other countries. So, we decided to introduce it in exactly the same way that Sweden introduced it and, surprise surprise, the take-up has been incredibly low.”    

The current format in Sweden sees parents offered a shared 480 days of subsided parental leave per child with a significant proportion paid for by taxpayers, paid at a rate of around 80% of the salary when leave is taken. The 480 days can be split between parents, and each parent is given the opportunity to take three months via a ‘use it or lose it basis’. Uptake is now considerably higher, with men in Sweden taking around a quarter of all parental leave.     

Next, the presentation turned towards broader caring responsibilities and how it is set to become a generational issue in addition to gender. Baby boomers, in particular, are in something of a precarious position as they are sandwiched between providing for children and retired parents alike, and women, as often is the case, bear the burden disproportionately more than men in this caring context. Ms Chanrai asked the audience to challenge the archetypes for the benefit of all: “We need to get to a point where society doesn’t, by default, expect women to take on caring responsibilities.” By removing gender from the conversation surrounding caregiving, we avoid the illegal (but extremely difficult to prove) discrimination that women are subjected to when working or applying for work.  

Changing attitudes and expectations from workers will likely be the driving force behind improvements in work/life balance for all; a study by Business in Community found that men’s attitudes toward family life are shifting: “43% of millennial fathers are willing to take a pay cut if it meant they could spend more time with their families.” Although, over half of the participants of the study mentioned they were not comfortable asking their employers about lowering their working hours.     

The impact of improving work/life balance has benefits for both men, women and, most importantly, children. Ms Chanrai explained how the Business in the Community research found that couples that raise children together are happier together. Indeed, by having fathers more present in homelife, daughters are more likely to become managers and sons are more likely to become hands-on fathers themselves; by sharing such responsibilities, we are “changing the general makeup of society,” and improving life for the generations to come. 

Businesses that embrace these new practices also look set to reap the rewards, with recruitment pull factors encouraging the best new talent to companies. Improved gender equality is also likely to become essential in future government legislation, with targets (such as the proportion of women in senior roles) identified via reports like the gender pay gap likely to be set. According to Ms Chanrai, better work/life balance would also result in reduced staff turnover, improved workplace wellbeing and higher staff retention.

While the government is slow to act, Ms Chanrai told the audience that companies could forge ahead by introducing new policies to lower the gender pay gap and improve work/life balance. Such strategies included creating quality part-time positions and job share options, allowing staff to ‘work agile’ (by compressing hours or working from home) and creating a caring leave allowance that was equal for men and women alike (with the inclusion of adult carers). 

We would like to say thank you once again to Ms Kaammini Chanrai for joining us for a truly insightful presentation on gender in a professional context. Be sure to subscribe to UKCBC’s communications list for regular updates on UKCBC events, guest lectures and more.

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