The ‘Men as Agents of Change’ toolkit has been launched by the government-backed Women’s Business Council. It includes a foreword by home secretary Amber Rudd and aims to give practical advice to CEOs and other senior business leaders at FTSE 350 companies and other prominent businesses, the majority of whom are men, on achieving better gender balance in their organisations.
The Home Office warned that there are currently few too women in board and executive positions to achieve and sustain enough female leadership positions in FTSE companies in the future.
Recommendations in the toolkit include building a pipeline of female talent so women can move to more senior roles, and encouraging more men and women to take up shared parental leave.
Others include leaders taking greater responsibility for ensuring 33% of executive-level business leaders are women by 2020; sponsoring one to three women at any given time who have potential to secure an executive role; and being a visible part of the wider conversation around achieving gender balance.
Victoria Atkins, minister for women, said: “I am delighted that the Women’s Business Council’s toolkit will help men in business take important steps to improving gender equality in their organisations. The majority of CEOs are male, so it’s essential that they drive the necessary change from the top.
"Diverse workforces and closing the gender pay gap make economic sense. Research shows that improving women’s participation in the labour market could add £150 billion to the economy by 2025 – a number we can’t ignore."
Some have warned, however, that the toolkit runs the risk of oversimplifying gender inequality at work.
Denise Keating, chief executive of the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (ENEI), highlighted that inequality was not due to men deliberately preventing women from reaching senior positions.
“There is a damaging idea that men in senior positions are actively stopping women from achieving executive positions," she said. "The actual problem is far more complex, and includes inflexible childcare policies, unconscious bias and lack of role models. The biggest contributor though is simply indifference, which is far worse than deliberate obstruction."
She added that gender pay gap reporting is a useful tool for highlighting the issue, but that it won’t solve the problem on its own. "HR, while a key instrument in driving change, can’t solve the issue on its own," she added. "Equality of opportunity doesn’t necessarily result in equality of outcome, as many women will decide to leave the workforce to raise children or take more junior roles that work around their families."
Keating did agree though on the importance of the CEO's role. She added: “Executive leaders must do more to ensure that those who do want to work their way up the talent pipeline do have every opportunity to do so, and that barriers to progression for women are removed. This starts with something as simple as positioning shared parental leave with the same benefits as maternity leave.”
All organisations with 250 or more employees had until the deadline of midnight on 4 April to publish their gender pay gaps. Just over 10,000 employers have published their gender pay gap details, revealing that 78% of businesses have a gap in favour of men.
The average median pay gap was revealed as 12% in favour of men. Construction has the largest sector-wide gap, with an average median pay gap of 25%. The gap is 22% in the finance and insurance sector and 20% in education.
A common reason cited by organisations for their gender pay gap was fewer women in senior positions.