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News:Research shows UK struggling with gender equality

Rhian Morgan

Recent reports have shown that the UK lags in 54th place globally for economic opportunity – which is bad news for our economy

If you're Icelandic, there's cause for cheer. Not so much if you're British, though. 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released its Global Gender Gap Report for 2016. The report, which analysed  interviews of 250 executives (162 male, 88 female) found that women in the UK have only 58% of the economic opportunity available to men.  

So where are we globally? The top four nations that lead the WEF's report are all Scandinavian countries, with Iceland taking the lead, followed by Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The next highest are Rwanda, Ireland, the Philippines, Slovenia and new Zealand. Rounding out the top 10 is Nicaragua.   

The UK is in 20th position overall – but 53rd for economic opportunity, 34th for education, 64th for health and survival, and 24th for political empowerment – much worse than Ireland which, even though they have dropped a place, are doing far better than us when judged by every other standard.  

And a study by Xactly , which explores the causes and repercussions of the gender pay gap, has revealed just that the UK business community struggling to readdress the balance.   

Tom Castley, VP EMEA of Xactly, said: “The gender gap is not only unjust – it’s terrible news for our economy. Until we get the most out of every person and reward them fairly, we cannot hope to tackle our country’s productivity gap.

"But women aren’t only being held back by straightforward discrimination. In our recent study, 62% of UK executives said that the main cause of the gender pay gap is that women take time out to have children then struggle to catch up to men. To tackle this, the way we pay employees must fundamentally evolve with the digital age.”    

Natural prejudice

According to the Xactly survey, almost half (49%) of UK executives believe the reason for the gender pay gap within businesses is “a natural prejudice against women”. And 62% believe that the broader cause for the gap is women taking time out of their careers to have children. What’s more, 85% of the c-suite has admitted that UK plc has a gender pay gap, with more than two-thirds having witnessed gender-based pay discrimination themselves. And 72% of execs believe those women will never catch-up to male peers unless they leave their company.

Reassuringly, however, more than eight-in-ten leaders (82%) say their business has a clear strategy to close the gender pay gap. While 82% say businesses must do more to close the gap and the majority (41%) say this lies in the hands of the CEO, with HR teams also identified by 20% of execs.       

Claire Cockerton, CEO of Here East Innovation Centre, reiterated the point:  “Changing perceptions about women’s abilities in the workplace is a stubborn challenge to address.

"Though we may not realise it, many of us carry preconceived ideas and unconscious biases, about women in business. This has once again been highlighted by [the] research. The fact that nearly half recognises this, however, does mean it can be addressed. This elevates an issue which everyone should play a part in rectifying, both female and male, those who have been advocating for equal pay for years, and those who once might not have thought it their place.

"We need strong male and female voices; and those who find themselves in leadership positions in companies need to take the requisite responsibility for tipping the scale - which means we need to see a lot more male leaders at the table driving forward diversity and gender equality.” 

Business leaders admit “widespread problem”

Yet 38% of leaders admit that they lack the data and analytics capabilities to identify the gap.     

 “The key to closing the pay gap is to understand why it persists. Part of the problem is that most businesses lack the ability to access, analyse and action the data needed to highlight the gap,” adds Castley.

 “Data is the first and critical step in helping to readdress the pay balance, it is the solution and businesses need help to make it work for them.”      

Assessing the future success of the UK Government’s new policy aimed at reducing the gap, 17% stated that attempts to close the gap should be led by the Government. However the impact of such Government-led efforts is in question with over a quarter (26%) of execs being unaware of the new policy.          

“The Government can play a part in helping to close the gender pay gap. But businesses also need the analysis of their pay information to make informed decisions about it,” explains Castley. “The new policy is only one part of the solution. The survey results clearly indicate that business leaders want to create pay equality need the data to equip them properly to take on the gender pay gap and close it.”        

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