Way back, when I was a fresh-faced young student (well slightly haggard in truth from too many late nights and student parties), I encountered my first experience of gender discrimination.
It was at a large multi-national technology Company who shall remain nameless, and I was being interviewed for a ‘sandwich’ placement as part of my degree. Although the interviews were scheduled to take place in the early afternoon, I had to get myself up pretty early to get ready, navigate through a pretty complex schedule of public transport timetables to get from Birkenhead to some random place out in the middle of the Cheshire countryside. I even had to fork out for taxis which was quite a luxury on a student grant, but I managed to get myself to the Company a good 30 minutes before the first interview was due to start.
Five minutes before the first of two interviews I had prepared for, I was advised by the Receptionist that my two interview expectation had become just the one. Many people would be ecstatic with that news, but ever the nosey HR person even back then, I had to ask the question; why? The response I was given was that a male candidate from a much closer University location had arrived late and they didn’t have time to give us both two interviews; so he would get the two interviews and mine would be cut and needless to say, I didn’t get the placement.
Made in Dagenham
In the grand scale of things, this experience is pretty minor when compared to other examples of discrimination, but it is the age-old problem that refuses to go away. Now immortalised in the film and musical, ‘Made in Dagenham’; back in 1968 female workers at the Ford plant went on strike claiming sex discrimination and demanding that they received equal pay with the male workers doing the same job at the plant. The strike lasted three weeks, bringing production to a standstill and was only resolved when MP Barbara Castle was brought in to negotiate a settlement. The women returned to work when their pay was increased to a level of 92% of that of their male counterparts, and two years later, the Equal Pay Act was introduced; which made it illegal to use separate pay-scales for male and female employees.
Equal pay for equal work
In 1973, when the UK first became part of the EU (or European Economic Community as it was back then) and had to sign up to the Treaty of Rome. Whilst the essence of the Treaty was the creation of a single European Market, one of the founding values of the European Union was equality between men and women and the principle of equal pay for work of equal value was established.
This year has also seen the implementation of the Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations 2016; which will require large organisations employing over 250 employees to collect their gender pay gap data, including amounts paid in bonuses, as at 30th April 2017 and publically report on it annually from 2018 onwards.
Yet despite the emphasis that there has been on gender equality and discrimination over the last 40 plus years, figures still show that on average, a female earns around 80p for every £1 that is earned by a male employee.
A recent online survey published on HR Grapevine and conducted by Suzannah Weiss, a freelance writer specialising in writing about issues affecting women, highlighted the top examples of sexist comments/behaviour that women have heard/experienced at work as being:
- Being called ‘emotional.'
- Being discriminated for wearing a loose fitting top on a construction site.
- Overhearing the manager call various female candidates for jobs as ‘femme fatales’ and ‘someone who is cute but didn’t make much sense.'
- Being told by a manager that he ‘liked the split in my skirt.'
- Being assigned stereotypical female tasks whilst a male colleague was given other duties.
- Moving department after being told that ‘young men have more energy than women.'
- Being discriminated for attending an event celebrating women in the workplace.
- Being told to watch my weight, because my manager didn’t like ‘fat’ girls.
- Having a manager describe a female colleague’s breasts to the office.
- Being excluded from out of work activities in a ‘boys-club’ style’ and:
- Comparing salaries company-wide and discovering I was paid significantly less than male co-workers.
With the exception of the last one, which is a tangible example of discrimination and could be easily challenged under Equal Pay legislation, the other examples given reflect attitudinal issues towards females in the workplace. Attitudes which are allowed to continue because many women who experience it are fearful of the consequences of challenging it and likewise men who witness it are fearful of being excluded if they do not join in. It is perceived as just being ‘harmless banter’ and like the example given above, women who respond to it are seen as being ‘emotional’…
It’s a tough nut to crack…
Of course, there are those who do take a stand against their employers and pursue claims in an employment tribunal, and with no upper limit on the compensation that can be awarded for discrimination claims, the awards can be considerable ~ something for employers to really think about.
Recent cases have included Konczak v. BAE Systems (Operations) Limited; where a dismissed secretary claimed sex and disability discrimination, alongside unfair dismissal and was awarded £316,179. Another case is Lokhova v. Sberbank CIB (UK) Ltd; where an award of £3.2 million was made to the complainant after her claim of sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation was upheld by the tribunal; although in an interview with the BBC, it would seem that the adage that ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ is true, as Ms Lokhova describes the emotional, physical and financial impact of challenging her employers in this way.
It’s very easy for companies and individuals to tick the box to say they are compliant with equality legislation, but it is clear that this is perceived by many as just being a tick box exercise; with no tangible action being taken to check behind the tick box to see what the reality within that workplace is.
The question now of course is; have the Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations become just another tick box exercise or will the information generated from this will create real changes being made in the workplace, leading to the shattering of the ‘glass ceiling’ once and for all… We’ll have to watch and see!