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Kiren Vadher: We need evidence-based family-friendly policies at work

Recording data around flexible working and family-friendly policies is crucial to tackling inequality in the workplace and reducing the gender pay gap

HR must move to an evidence-based approach around family-friendly and flexible working policies in order to shift the dial on equality at work, according to Dr Kiren Vadher, Head of Gender Equality Policy Team head of evidence development and family-friendly policies at the Government Equalities Office (GEO).

In a keynote speech at the Working Families National Work Life Week Conference, Vadher said that workplace policies are only actionable if they are backed up by evidence of what works and what doesn’t. “To move the dial on equalising pay we need to debias systems not people. Human resource management must be based on rigorous evidence of what works to level the playing field, treat everyone fairly and benefit from 100% of the talent pool,” she said.

“Evidence-based design of hiring practices, promotion procedures and compensation schemes helps our organisations do the right and the smart thing, creating more inclusive and better workplaces. This guidance is an important step towards helping employers know what works.”

Vadher pointed to data showing there is often confusion around what could genuinely help close the gender pay gap. For example, research suggests that having diverse selection panels makes little difference in terms of hiring women and reducing the gender pay gap.

However, she said that setting internal targets, appointing diversity managers or a diversity taskforce, and using structured interviews does help tackle this inequality.

Offering all jobs as flexible could also be incredibly effective in tackling workplace inequality, Vadher added. The GEO predicted this could create a 25% increase in job applications from women and a 45% increase in women moving to senior roles across organisations.

“The Government Equalities Office is committed to building a robust evidence base to support employers and organisations to implement effective actions that help reduce gender inequality in their workplaces,” she added.

“Like Working Families we believe good family-friendly policies enable more equal sharing of work and childcare between men and women so that both can fulfil their potential at work.”

Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, added that taking a more evidence-based approach to fixing the gender pay gap is a mark of the progress being made by firms: “The gender pay gap will not magically disappear but it is wonderful that we are starting to look at data and get a sense of how we can use it to help women progress at work, and to see that there are key decision-makers who are buying in to this.”