International Women’s Day – Protecting women in the workplace
International Women’s Day (IWD) is marked annually on 8th March and is a day to celebrate the achievements of women, to educate and raise awareness of inequality and to take to action to drive gender parity.
The 2024 IWD campaign theme is #inspireinclusion. Legislation and attitudes in the workplace have advanced considerably in the last decade to promote the inclusion of women; however, there are still many obstacles to inclusion and there is more each of us can do to address this.
“When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world.
And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there’s a sense of belonging, relevance and empowerment.”
Recent developments promoting workplace inclusion and protection for women.
- The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2003 which comes in to force on 6 April 2024 changes the right to make flexible working requests:
- Employees will be able to make flexible working requests from day 1, displacing the need for 26 weeks service;
- Employees will be able to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period;
- Employers will be required to consult with employees before refusing a flexible working request application;
- The employee will no longer need to explain what effect they think their flexible working request will have on the employer; and
- Employers will need to respond to a request within 2 months, reducing this from the current position of 3 months.
This a welcome change for all employees, but particularly for women, as more accessible flexible working will allow them to balance their family and professional responsibilities more easily. It will also support retention of women in the workplace and open job opportunities that women may ordinarily have avoided. Employers will also benefit from a wider talent pool that they typically may not have been able to access to without the benefit of flexible working.
- The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 which will come in to force in October 2024, requires employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees. It also gives employment tribunals the power to increase compensation by up to 25% where an employer is found to have breached the duty.
Women are much more likely than their male colleagues to be subject to sexual harassment at work. Research in 2017, indicated that 4 in 10 women in the UK had experienced some form of unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace. As a result of this, many women limit their job choices, fail to progress, or reach for promotion opportunities and ultimately in some cases leave the workforce altogether.
This legislation will hopefully encourage workplaces to put it place supportive measures to ensure the continued inclusion and progression of women at work.
Other recent developments in gender parity legislation, include the following:
- The Carers Leave Act 2023 which comes in to force on 6 April 2024 gives employees the right to take up to one week of unpaid carer’s leave per year. The aim of this legislation it to make it easier for employees to provide or arrange care for a dependent with long-term care needs.
- The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 is a law that provides parents with a right to 12 weeks’ leave and pay when their baby required neonatal care. The legislation was passed on 24 May 2023 but will not come into effect until April 2025.
- Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 which comes in to for on 6 April 2024. The current position is that employees on maternity/adoption/shared parental leave have enhanced protections in redundancy situations, this includes the right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy over other employees at risk, if one is available. The Act expands this protection to include pregnant employees, from the moment they notify their employer of their pregnancy, through to 18 months after childbirth.
It should also be noted that the Miscarriage Leave Bill and Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill are currently working their way through Parliament to give employees who suffer a miscarriage or who are undergoing IVF paid time off work.
What can employers do to support the inclusion of women in the workplace?
- Implement strong and clear policies with advocate for the inclusion of women in the workplace. This may include policies on matters such as flexible working or the menopause.
- Provide training to managers and colleagues on the challenges facing women and the proactive steps that they can take to support the inclusion of women.
- Creating safe workplaces for women, where they can discuss topics such as the menopause without fear or stigma.
“When women aren’t present, we must ask: “If not, why not?”
When women are discriminated against, we must call out poor practice.
When the treatment of women is not equitable, we must take action.
and we must do this each time, every time.”
Please contact Sophie Robertson if you’d like to discuss how Bermans can help you.