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UK ranks fifth globally for progress on gender equality

Gender equality has seen steady but significant progress around the world, according to new research.

Social enterprise Equileap, which gathers gender equality data, published today (2 March) results showing large companies have made significant improvements over the past three years, with the UK ranking fifth globally.

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The global average, calculated through 19 gender equality criteria including gender balance at each level of seniority, pay gaps, and policies, has improved from 35% in 2021 to 41% in 2023.

The UK’s average score was 52%, just below France at 55%, and higher than the US average of 40%.

Diana Van Maasdijk, CEO and founder of Equileap, warned this should not mean the UK should become complacent. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “The number of companies globally that have closed the gender pay gap is pathetically low, accounting for less than 1% [of the 3,800 companies studied].

“Yet it is a notable fact that 12 of the 28 companies that have managed to do so are British, despite UK companies making only 6% of the researched total.”

British companies that had closed their pay gaps included the National Grid, Tate & Lyle, Rolls Royce and Currys.

Van Maasdijk said the UK remained one of the best performing markets for publishing gender pay data as 82% disclosed the information.

She attributed the success to the UK’s mandatory gender pay gap reporting law for companies of over 250 employees.

The UK did not perform well in other areas however.

She added: “The UK's blind spot regarding sexual harassment and the missing rung for executive teams when it comes to gender balance is surprising and disappointing. 

“Just 44% of UK companies publish an anti-sexual harassment policy putting the UK well behind most of Europe and North America.”

More than 80% of Spanish and Italian companies, and more than 71% of Canadian and 66% of US companies publish an anti-sexual harassment policy.

Ann Cairns, global chair of the 30% club, an organisation dedicated to boosting the number of women in boardrooms, said that while there was a feeling of transparency over pay and desire to improve in the UK, the pace of change was too slow.

Speaking to HR magazine she said: “In a country where women are graduating at a faster rate than men we still haven’t addressed the costs of child care and the low level of paid parental leave.

“Women are quite rightly frustrated at the lack of progression they see in the work, resulting in 99% of companies having a gender pay gap. The playing field is far from level for women and the disadvantage increases dramatically for women of colour.”

There is no silver bullet for gender equality, she added: “It’s a question of focusing on key areas and fixing each in turn. It starts with 50-50 recruitment, and continues with annual reviews to ensure women and men in the company are paid the same rates for similar roles. 

“It includes paid parental leave policies that work for men and women, fair promotion practices, jobs advertised and open to all, and panel interviews to prevent bias. Constant assessments can look at attrition rates and see if any trends can be picked up and corrected. 

“Most importantly it’s creating a company culture that ensures women don’t experience a broken rung on the first step of the management ladder and take their place at equal rates to men.”

Equileap studied 3,787 companies with valuations over $2 billion, representing over 102 million employees globally.