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80% of women believe gender discrimination exists at work

On International Women's Day and as the pay gap deadline looms, research highlights levels of gender discrimination and preventative steps

Eight in 10 female workers in the UK think workplace gender discrimination exists, according to research from Investors in People (IiP).

The Perceptions of Gender Discrimination in the Workplace 2018 survey found that 48% of female workers have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, while just half (51%) of all workers believe their workplace fosters a culture that encourages gender equality.

The research also highlighted a concerning trend among young people, with 88% citing gender discrimination as an issue and 66% claiming to have experienced this firsthand.

Valerie Todd, chair of IiP, said: “The results… reveal that an unacceptably high proportion of women feel that gender discrimination exists. The fact that nearly half of female workers have experienced this sort of discrimination shows that there is still more to be done in ensuring that workplaces across the country are providing fair and inclusive environments for all workers, regardless of gender.”

These findings come as recent government figures reveal 74% of firms pay higher rates to their male staff, pointing to gender discrimination in some instances when it comes to promotion and career opportunities.

Sumita Ketkar, senior lecturer in leadership and professional development at Westminster Business School, commented: “A closer look at the data available to date across sectors reveals that while predictably some sectors such as finance and insurance as well as sports – for example Barclays Bank and England Cricket Board – have large pay gaps, even the more traditionally ‘women-oriented’ sectors such as education, healthcare and social care have a gap.

"Not surprisingly, no matter what industry we are looking at, under-representation of women in the top jobs seems to be the recurring trend.”

Separate research by Accenture has identified 40 workplace factors, including 14 factors that matter the most, that it claims create a culture of gender equality and help narrow the pay gap. The top three factors identified were: encouraging men to take paternity leave, publicly announcing a company diversity target, and having a company commitment to gender diversity in place.

“Our research highlights the key role workplace culture plays in unlocking gender equality,” said Payal Vasudeva, executive sponsor for human capital and diversity for Accenture in the UK and Ireland.

The 14 core factors were grouped into the principle categories of bold leadership, comprehensive action and an empowering environment. Vasudeva went on to say that workplaces that action the factors help the advancement of all employees.

“When you create a workplace environment that enables women to advance everyone benefits – men and women. It also drives true inclusion, underpinned by diversity of thought, which is a source of innovation, creativity and competitive advantage for businesses,” she added.

For Westminster Business School's Ketkar, imposing penalties on businesses that foster cultures of gender discrimination is the answer to narrowing the gap.

“If the gap is truly to be filled more must be done in the form of imposing penalties on defaulters, a move that might be the next necessary step to tackle this ongoing problem deeply embedded within society,” she said.

UK businesses with more than 250 employees have until 4 April to submit their gender pay gap report.