This guest post was kindly written by friend of Leaders Plus and gender equality advocate, Tulip Siddiq MP.
Thank you Tulip, for your ongoing championing of – and role modelling for – working parents.
Throughout my time as an MP I have campaigned to improve gender equality in Parliament.
Whilst progress has certainly been made with regards to increasing gender equality in Parliament and other workplaces, we undoubtedly still have a long way yet to go. Unfortunately, the pandemic failed to bring about the revolution in how our workplaces operate that so many of us had hoped for. Instead, we have returned to unequal and antiquated systems that don’t work for any of us.
It is high time we forced workplaces into the 21st Century and made them fit and functional for all of us, starting with Parliament.
I hope that by the time my daughter begins her career, gender inequality in the workplace will have long since been resigned to history. But that won’t happen unless changes are made today.
These are four things I believe we urgently need to improve gender equality:
An increase in flexible working opportunities:
A lack of access to flexible working disproportionately affects women in the workplace as mothers are too often forced to sacrifice their careers when faced with the tug-of-war between childcare responsibilities and work. This significantly reduces the number of women in work, with a loss to the economy of billions of pounds each year.
Working parents currently face soaring childcare costs, with a full-time nursery place for a child under the age of two, now costing almost two-thirds of a family’s weekly take-home pay. Guaranteeing the right to flexible working would ensure women are allowed the option to work from home and thus not forced to choose between their careers or extortionate childcare costs.
That is why I introduced my Flexible Working Bill in Parliament in 2021. And whilst unfortunately, it was not made law, I have continued campaigning for the right to flexible working.
Over the past year, I have been working with my colleague Yasmin Qureshi MP on her Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, which is now undergoing its final reading in the House of Lords. During its stages in the Commons, I put forward an amendment that would give workers the right to request flexible working from the first day in a job and I am pleased to say that the Government has now committed to introducing secondary legislation that will give employees this right.
As long as the burden of childcare falls disproportionately upon mothers, flexible working is integral to achieving gender equality and levelling the playing field in the workplace.
Equal pay and standardised parental leave:
The gender pay gap currently stands at 14.9 percent, meaning women effectively worked the first 54 days of 2023 for free. Closing this gap will not only ensure women are equally and rightfully valued in a material sense, but it will also increase the number of women in the workforce and in turn boost the economy.
Maternity discrimination currently exists as a significant contributor to this gap: women returning from leave are considerably less likely to see the kind of career progression and opportunities available to their male counterparts.
I was proud to support my colleague Dan Jarvis MP’s Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill to extend redundancy protections for expectant mothers and new parents; and I am so pleased it will come into law as an Act of Parliament later this month.
But we must go further: standardising parental leave would help to alleviate the maternity discrimination experienced by as many as 3 in 4 expectant mothers. It would contribute to removing stigma facing expectant mothers and allow more fluidity in the balance of leave taken by new parents.
Women in positions of leadership and responsibility:
Of course, placing women in senior roles is an essential part of promoting gender equality in the workplace. In 2022, only 9 women held CEO roles in the FTSE 100.
Facilitating career progression helps to reduce pay disparities; but more than that, once women are in senior positions, they able to serve as role models for those starting out or earlier on in their careers and offer tailored guidance. I know I benefited hugely from the mentorship I was given by my predecessor, the late Glenda Jackson.
Strictly enforced sexual harassment policies:
At the most basic level, gender equality in any workplace cannot be realised unless women and gender non-conforming people feel safe.
The scale of sexual harassment experienced by sections of the workforce is shocking, with one in two women and seven in ten LGBT+ workers having experienced sexual harassment at work.
It is for this reason that I supported Wera Hobhouse’s Worker Protection Bill to place a duty upon employers to actively prevent instances of sexual harassment from occurring. The Bill is currently going through the committee stage in the House of Lords, and I hope it is given the go-ahead it needs.
Enforcing strict sexual harassment policies in the workplace, including with respect to third parties, is fundamental to gender equality and creating a culture that allows all employees to thrive and prosper and will go a long way to ensuring retention of female staff.
Join the conversation. Let us know what you think about these points, and whether there is anything you’d add. Comment directly on this post or tag us on social media with your thoughts.