Jess Phillips: Policies for women at work are stuck in the 1950s

We must end outdated employment practices that disadvantage women, said Labour MP and co-chair of the Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Jess Phillips at the launch of a new report

The APPG’s report, How to Recruit Women for the 21st Century, took evidence from a number of organisations in the public, private, and voluntary sectors to make recommendations to improve the recruitment of women. These include obliging companies publishing gender pay gap data to break this data down into further categories such as age, ethnicity and disability, and potentially extending this reporting to smaller companies. It also called for the strengthening of the Equality Act, and broadening the number of people who can access the apprenticeship levy.

The report is designed for employers to use as a toolkit for attracting, recruiting and supporting more women into the workplace. It advises employers on advertising roles as open to flexible working and on reducing unconscious bias in interviews and job adverts.

It also recommends that employers offer returnship programmes to train women and other returners in the latest progressions in their fields, and that employers run outreach initiatives encouraging more women to work in traditionally male-dominated sectors.

“We have got to fundamentally change our policies, which in 2019 are like something out of the 1950s. It is still not acceptable that women are expected to be the main parent, it is still not acceptable that women are valued so much less in the workplace, it is still not acceptable that we fail to recognise the disadvantages of being a poor woman, of being a black woman, of being a disabled woman, and what that means in the workplace,” said Phillips, at the launch event at the Houses of Parliament.

“I am only too aware of the barriers facing women and facing children in this place [parliament], and facing anyone who wants to lead a normal life... We have got to stop saying this is what we want," said Phillips. "I hope this report will be listened to, and that the time for saying ‘we have got to change’ will soon be over – the time to change is now.”

The Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) was among those giving evidence, with the APPG accepting its recommendations on broadening the apprenticeship levy so it can be used as a training and skills levy to upskill those including contractors, freelancers and agency workers.

The report also calls for the government to launch an apprenticeship bursary fund to provide access to training to the poorest women and other under-represented groups, as well as support with transport costs for apprenticeships.

“A lot of employers have not been happy with the adoption of the apprenticeship levy for a number of different reasons; flexibility being a key one. A lot of temporary workers in key female-dominated sectors can’t benefit from training or apprenticeships, and are being shut out as a result,” Sophie Wingfield, head of policy at the REC, told HR magazine.

She added that employers should look at every stage of recruitment to ensure a fair hiring process: “The most important thing for employers is to make sure that flexibility runs right through the recruitment process, all the way from job design to how you interview your candidates, and what impact all those little changes can have on outcomes when it comes to improving diversity.”