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22 Feb 2021
by Debi O'Donovan

REBA's Inside Track: Lack of workplace gender data is harming performance metrics

As a fan of the work of journalist and author Caroline Criado Perez, I get very hot under the collar about the lack of data split by gender. Time and again, decisions are made on data that only include men, or merged data that blur pertinent gender differences that affect important work and social decisions.




This was once again flagged up in Aberdeen Standard’s report, A woman’s place: boosting female labour force participation to lift long-term economic growth, published last week. Aberdeen Standard is very interested in whether the companies in which it invests on behalf of clients are doing as much as they can to increase workforce productivity. It believes that increasing diversity and inclusion of the workforce can lift per-capita incomes and growth, but it needs robust data to prove this.

This is where the study hit its first hurdle: “At the outset of this research, we hoped to explore diversity and inclusion more broadly across gender, race, socioeconomic background and sexual orientation, at both country and company level.

“However, we realised early on that data on inequalities is extremely limited. Traditional gender splits between men and women at country level were the only area we found the data comprehensive enough for analysis.”

Sadly, this did not come as a huge surprise, but flags up a massive issue: the lack of gender segregated data at an employer level is masking both performance problems that need solving, and solutions that would be obvious if we could spot trends.

Gender pay gaps is a key example. The gaps have always been there, but until 2017 when reporting on gaps became mandatory for employers with more than 250 staff, little had been done to move the dial. Once Gender Pay Gap Reporting became a requirement, we started to see employers rethinking their HR policies, especially across talent and development practices to move women up the ranks and maximise their abilities.

Mandatory Gender Pay Gap Reporting was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and employers which fail to report by 4 April 2021 will be given six months grace until 4 October, according the the Equality & Human Rights Commission There have been vital changes over the past year that need to be tracked, especially if the figures are bad, because of the medium and long term impact on performance.

We are seeing reports time and again that women are being hardest hit by the pandemic – they are more likely to have been furloughed, gone part time or fallen out of the workplace all together over the past year. In the majority of cases, working women have taken on the bulk of home schooling and other caring responsibilities, even if they had a male partner working from home. We urgently need to capture this data and measure the impact of the pandemic via gender pay gaps.

Action: Sign the petition: Reinstate Gender Pay Gap Reporting 

Women should not be pushed aside as though we are less important than men in the workplace, and be told that the extra burden we are bearing is not as important as dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic. Women are absolutely key (as 50% of the working adult population) to us all emerging from this pandemic stronger.

As the Aberdeen Standard report, A women’s place, points out: “For companies, the ageing population could create labour shortages, even as technology helps boost productivity. Almost 37% of adult women in the developed world are not participating in the labour force, despite their substantial levels of tertiary education. This highlights a huge untapped potential source of labour today and in the face of rising demographic challenges.”

We need to think very differently about work, and how we plug into the full potential of our adult working population. We can no longer afford to treat so many women as second-class citizens who take the full brunt of the economic impact of having children, who are more likely than men to be on insecure work contracts, and who are invisible because we do not segregate and report on the data by gender enough at both an employer and government level.

For those employers, especially HR and employee benefits professionals, who are serious about true inclusion, and want to meet the ‘S’ in ESG (environmental, social and government) targets that institutional investors are increasingly requiring of CEOs across the globe, then these five recommendations from A Women’s Place report are worth delving into:

1. Ensure men have access to paternity leave and incentivise men to take that leave so the burden of child-related career breaks is more evenly shared.

2. Reduce tax for second earners and sole parents given the clear negative impact it has on female participation. Tax distortions reinforce the unfair work/care trade-off that women face.

3. Consider both the quantity and quality of female work. Given the reality of the work/care trade-off, part-time work and flexible short-term employment provide vital opportunities for women to remain connected to the workforce.

4. Strengthen the performance and resilience of the overall economy. Increasing economic growth potential and reducing the cyclicality of growth can strengthen labour markets and facilitate greater overall participation. The two largest drivers of female workforce participation were education, which is linked to economic development, and male participation.

5. Report more and higher-quality data, so we can monitor what companies are doing. This will help us understand what policies improve diversity and inclusion, and how that affects corporate performance. Investors can play their part by encouraging firms to release this information.

The author is Debi O’Donovan, content director at REBA.

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