‘Barrier Bosses’ preventing progress in gender equality despite wide support 0

Female equalityMore men than women believe that equality between the sexes would be better for the UK economy and themselves. Yet despite finding a clear desire for equality, the forthcoming ‘Sex Equality – State of the Nation’ report by the Fawcett Society reveals that there are still significant barriers to progress that need to be overcome. Overall men are more likely to support equality of opportunity for women than women, with 86 percent of men wanting this for women in their lives, compared to 81 percent of women wanting it for themselves. But the survey identified two major barriers to progress – firstly a small but powerful group of ‘barrier bosses’ responsible for recruitment decisions, and secondly the fact that most people believe that men at the top won’t voluntarily move over for women. This year the Government plans to implement Section 78 of the 2010 Equality Act which will require all employers of over 250 people to publish their gender pay gap.

Fawcett’s biggest ever survey, carried out by Survation, found that 7 out of 10 men believe a more equal society between women and men would be better for the UK economy. Significantly, more than a third (39 percent) of men surveyed believe it would be better for them personally. Only 7 percent of men think they would lose out if we had a more equal society.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive said: “We won’t achieve equality without engaging and persuading men. There is now an overwhelming majority who believe it would be better for the economy, for the women in their lives and a significant number who also see it as better for themselves.

“We have never had a better opportunity to create a more equal society. But despite this stubborn barriers remain.”

The survey of over 8,000 people commissioned by leading feminist campaigning charity, the Fawcett Society, to mark its 150th year included 1,422 people who are recruitment decision-makers and the responses from them reveal some cause for concern.

This group, which includes women and men, is less likely to believe in equality of opportunity. Indeed this group is more than twice as likely (16 percent) as the overall population (7 percent) to be against equality of opportunity for the sexes and more likely to believe they would personally lose out if women and men were more equal.

A quarter of this group believes that a more equal society would not be better for the economy, compared to just 13 percent UK wide. 14 percent believe they would lose out if men and women were more equal; that’s more than three and a half times the proportion of those not involved in recruitment (4 percent).

Sam Smethers continued: “A significant minority of managers – the ‘barrier bosses’ – are holding us back. They are the ones with the power over recruitment and their decisions are likely to be informed by their attitudes to equality. There are many progressive employers who are working hard to drive change, but if they are wondering what is holding up progress in their organisation this may explain why.”

“Whether it is conscious or unconscious bias, this is discrimination in action. These are the people responsible for implementing equal opportunities policies yet 16 percent say they are opposed to the idea.”

“This is bad for individual employers, because they are not recruiting or promoting the best people and bad for the economy as they are holding women back, failing to use their skills and expertise.”

Significantly the survey also found that 6 in 10 people believe that men in top jobs won’t make room for women unless they have to, with 64 percent of women and over half (55 percent) of men stating this. Half (49 percent) of recruitment decision makers also shared this view.

“This is at the heart of it. Despite the fact that men are overwhelmingly pro-equality a majority of people clearly believe that when it comes to the crunch, men won’t move over unless they have to. This is why we need positive action and why quotas would make a difference.”

“The argument has been won. We all want a more equal society but we also see that it won’t happen on its own. We have to make it happen.”

The Fawcett Society is calling for:

  • Employers to use the opportunity of new equal pay regulations in 2016 requiring the publication of their gender pay gap to take a detailed look at gender equality in their workplace. That includes assessing women’s progression at every level of their business.
  • Unconscious bias training for managers.
  • Removal of harmful employment tribunal fees which are a barrier to women bringing sex discrimination claims.
  • Time-limited use of quotas to get more women on boards, together with targets to see more women in executive positions.
  • Move to ‘flexibility by default’ ‘flexibility first’– requiring all jobs to be advertised on a flexible basis unless there is a good business reason not to.

The full ‘Sex Equality – State of the Nation’ report will be published on Friday 15 January.