Ensuring you support female careers

Women in the UK were paid just 90p for every £1 earned by a man, according to the latest figures released through the government’s gender pay gap reporting mechanism.  Women were also found to endure the most caring responsibilities during the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

There is no doubt, therefore, that for many employees, especially women, there is a renewed focus on equality in the workplace. In a competitive employment market, employers who ignore equality issues do so at their own risk. Job seekers will often ask for details of equality-focused initiatives when making career choices – and employers are considering new initiatives as a result.

The benefits of a startup are such that if the correct foundations are laid at the outset it is much easier to get equality policies in the workplace right rather than trying to re-engineer outdated policies further down the line – in other words, you can avoid trying to fit the proverbial round peg into a square hole!

Innovative employers are striving to differentiate themselves from their competitors.  Recently a law firm, Burgess Mee, made headlines as it appointed a specific Fertility Officer with the cited aim of tackling stereotypes and supporting women’s career progression.  In theory, any initiative to support women in the workplace is a positive step but it is not clear how such an initiative will work in practice.

Not everyone is comfortable with sharing such personal information about their private lives with their employer.  Also, the term “Fertility Officer” raises questions - What is the role’s remit? Are men equally supported?  Why did Burgess Mee feel the need for the role – had there been negative employee feedback?

In the spirit of diversity and inclusion, deciding whether or not to have children is a very personal choice and it is not necessarily a path that everyone wishes to follow or is able to follow.  Despite good intentions, could the presence of a Fertility Officer be inadvertently divisive such that those employees without children (for whatever reason) feel less supported than their colleagues with children?

Startups have the benefit of structuring their business and fostering their employee culture from a blank sheet of paper.  Employees are a business’ biggest asset and it is vital that the culture and employee brand is right from the outset.  It is vital to take the time to map out what a good culture looks like (A) and use that as a benchmark.  From there, map out what great looks like (B) and plan how to get from A to B over a reasonable timeframe.  Work with a trusted business partner such as an employment lawyer and/or HR professional to get the correct processes and policies in place.  Once in place, it is essential that all employees and managers receive training to ensure they are aware of what the processes and policies are and how they should operate in practice – there is no point having great initiatives if no-one knows they exist!

Keep the policies under regular review (annually as a minimum) and survey your employees at regular intervals to monitor how they are feeling. A happy, inclusive and respected workforce is a stable and productive one.